Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, is a lackluster movie that doesn’t accomplish its directorial vision. The film is a short biopic telling the adult life of Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who exposed the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. Snowden has essentially become the face of the anti-surveillance movement, as he works his way through the Army, the CIA, and the NSA, only to become more and more uncomfortable with the privacy-breaching programs they have in place and eventually deciding to leak much of this information to the public.
Edward Snowden’s story is incredible and as far as I’m concerned, the man’s a hero. How a biopic of him, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt could be so godawful, I have no idea. In the beginning of the movie I was impressed with the recreations of the first scenes of Citizenfour, the 2014 documentary following Snowden’s first contact with the journalists and their discussions about how to deal with the entire situation.
In the film’s defence, it did manage to walk a strong middle line between political opinions, and never felt heavy-handed in nature, and never felt either overbearingly liberal or conservative at any given time.
The story of the film, much of which I, and others who had been following it, already knew is stressful. I was ready to be sweating and terrified and made uncomfortable. The film should have been something horrific. It should have been a psychological thriller but instead, it was just boring.
Despite the sometimes impressive camera work, and occasionally beautiful shots, the story just didn’t come alive. I found the romance between Edward and his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, a particularly obtrusive thread. Regardless of whether or not their relationship played out like this in real life, as a story it didn’t fit right.
One of the elements to blame for the unconvincing romance was the movies inconsistent score and soundtrack. During tech and computer heavy scenes they often use 90’s sounding cliche “hacker” electronica, and during some of the more dramatic portions of the film the string swelling is both out of place and uncalled for. It fizzles at best and annoys and intrudes at worst.
As the film is trying to achieve a more personal approach, it often focused heavily on Edward and Lindsay’s relationship and scenes like when Snowden uses PRISM (NSA’s mass surveillance program) for the first time or when he makes his escape out of his press-filled hotel in Hong Kong are comparatively glazed over. Those scenes should have been physically painful to watch. They should have been long and drawn out and we, as the audience, should have felt the horror that Edward must have felt.
The movie also really tried to play up the “Sherlock” super-genius angle as well, which is off-putting even though it may have been the right path to take. Although a trendy move considering the successes of The Imitation Game, BBC’s Sherlock and The Theory of Everything, it fell utterly flat in Snowden.
By the end of the film I am beginning to wonder, why was it even made? Citizenfour, only two years old, is an amazing film, including most of the information that was in Snowden, and the events are still ongoing.
The biggest problem I have with Snowden is this: now that a bad movie was made on an important, ongoing political issue, there is little appetite for another on the same topic. By being mediocre, Snowden has failed to achieve it’s important political goals of showing the world who Edward Snowden really is.
Where the film most falls short though, is that it isn’t Citizenfour. It isn’t a beautiful, poignant, political piece of art that strikes viewers to their very core but rather it is a half hearted attempt at a fictional retelling of a fairly recent, real and unfinished story. My recommendation is to watch Citizenfour, read the literature on the topic and don’t bother with Snowden.