I saw Oliver Stone‘s Snowden (Open Road, 9.16) in late August, but the embargo has only just lifted. It’s Oliver’s finest and most satisfying film since Any Given Sunday, which is no small equivalency. Oliver has rebounded! Compelling and comprehensive, Snowden tells the tale of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who in my eyes is a kind of Paul Revere of the digital invasion age.
Human nature being what it is, most people out there want security more than freedom. They want the government to waste Islamic bad guys, and, being of relatively clean conscience, are okay with their privacy being invaded as a trade-off. The longer view is that if some rash authoritarian is elected President one day, he/she could utilize the NSA’s vast surveillance network to create an Orwellian thought-police state. There’s also the matter of political resistance, an essential tenet of any democracy, being weakened by the lack of private agency.
Snowden is a well-measured complement to Laura Poitras‘s Oscar-winning Citizen Four, which of course means zip to the tens of millions of potential ticket buyers who’ve never even heard of Citizen Four, much less seen it, or who’ve otherwise bought into the MSM’s view that what Snowden did was dicey if not verging on treason.
Outside of your educated, progressive X-factor lefties, sensible centrists and smart righties the U.S. is mostly a nation of comfort-seeking, mall-meandering sheep. For every person interested in seeing Snowden, there are 20 or 25 who would much rather see Garth Jennings‘ Sing (Universal, 12.21).
I wasn’t exactly surprised by how well done Snowden is, Stone having proven his mastery of political cinema time and again, but I was pleased by the fact that it’s an adult, complex and highly disciplined exploration of what Snowden’s saga involved and why he did what he did.
JGL delivers a grimmer, more actorly version of Snowden than the Real McCoy, but I was okay with his vibe. Shailene Woodley plays the proverbial girlfriend who gives the protagonist shit over being too work-oriented or being too closed off or emotionally inaccessible. (Which is what all girlfriends do the world over — no escaping this.) Rhys Ifans is fine and purring as a CIA overlord figure; ditto Nic Cage as an older marginalized CIA guy who shares Snowden’s assessments and concerns. Zachary Quinto delivers a believable Glenn Greenwald.
I suspect that Poitras may be a tiny bit unhappy about being portrayed by the always excellent Melissa Leo, simply because Leo, bless her, looks a good five if not ten years older. But them’s the breaks.
I particularly loved the CG digital sequence that shows how surveillance works on a personal, always expanding, ultimately global & nearly infinite basis. And I loved the finale, which I can’t spoil but trust me.