Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Movie Review #492: "Snowden" (2016)

Director: Oliver Stone
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
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The story of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the NSA contractor who became a whistle-blower by stealing classified documents that showed the US government was spying on its own citizens.

"Snowden" is a politically charged dramatic thriller directed by the prolific Oliver Stone. It is a dramatization of the events in Edward Snowden's life between the years of 2003 and 2015. It is based on two books, the first being "The Time of the Octopus" by Anatoly Kucherena, and the second being "The Snowden Files" by Luke Harding. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the titular Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who blew the whistle on the US government's mass collection of data and how it was spying on its own citizens in the name of security and safety.

There has been a public debate in the media by politicians and people alike when it comes to whether or not Snowden is a hero or a traitor. There is no question what side of this debate Oliver Stone falls on and what message he is presenting within this film. Much of the plot is about Snowden the person and his evolution from a gung-ho 'government can do no wrong' blind patriot to an 'oh no, my government is breaking the law and I have to expose it and tell people' patriot. It also has a strong focus on his relationship with long time girlfriend Lindsay Mills, played by Shailene Woodley. The couple have ups and downs in their relationship like any couple would as mounting stress from Edward's career puts them at odds. He essentially has to lie and keep secrets from her, two things that are very damaging to a relationship. The audience sees the moral struggle Edward faces about the United States's surveillance programs and how he has an inability to talk it out with someone, meaning he can't work through those issues and they just create more strain and pressure on him in his home life.

The film suggests Lindsay indirectly influenced Snowden, not to steal the documents, but at least that she planted the seed in his mind as far as what really makes America great and how it is the right of the people to question the actions of their government. The acting in the film is solid with this very capable cast, though Gordon-Levitt is clearly the star here. Some may be put off initially at his change in voice and his attempt to somewhat mimic Snowden, but as the movie moves along its mildly long run time, it becomes less distracting and we learn to accept it is just his voice. Speaking of Gordon-Levitt, we wonder if Stone used far away shots of the real Edward Snowden from time to time, and if not, he sure as hell picked the right actor for the job because there are fleeting moments when you can't tell Gordon-Levitt apart from the real Snowden.

As we said, "Snowden" can really make a person paranoid as it drives home the notion that you are always being watched. Oliver Stone invokes some "1984" Orwellian imagery from time to time, especially towards the end of the film in a moment involving Rhys Ifans and an extremely large computer screen as this looming figurehead in Snowden's career questions what he has done in the past. Some may say Stone is merely fanning the flames of fear as he strongly implies that little pervs who work at the NSA, CIA or wherever are watching you have sex or looking at your significant other as they undress. It only briefly touches on the other perspective, merely having an official say in a one-off line that Americans want security, not privacy or freedom. The government justifies all of this invasive technology, saying it is required in the modern day digital landscape because the Internet has become the new military battleground, that terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are short term threats because the next invasion will be a cyber-hack, and the next war will be fought online. Our enemies in the future are not the ones we are fighting now, but rather, we should keep our friends close and our enemies closer.

In the end, how you feel about "Snowden" may depend on how you feel about the man himself and your abilities to separate your personal feelings from the media scrutiny. Since we are dirty hippies, we found it to be fairly engaging and mostly entertaining, though a little heavy-handed on the preaching and timid on Stone's signature conspiracy angle. It is a bit sluggish in its pacing and run time, though we didn't find it to be as bad as we thought it might be. By the end of it all, you may be so paranoid that you might think of taping off your computer's webcam and turning off your computer microphones, or possibly storing your cell phone in the microwave to block UHF frequencies. Not that we have anything to hide, NSA, just an observation!

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 61%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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