DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

SNOWDEN (director/writer: Oliver Stone; screenwriter: Kieran Fitzgerald/books by Luke Harding & Anatoly Kucherena; cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle; editors: Alex Marquez, Lee Percy; music: Craig Armstrong, Adam Peters; cast:  Melissa Leo (Laura Poitras), Joseph Gordon-Levitt  (Edward Snowden), Shailene Woodley (Lindsay Mills), Tom Wilkinson (Ewen MacAskill), Zachary Quinto (Glenn Greenwald), Ben Schnetzer (Gabriel), Josely Richardson (Janine Gibson), Nicolas Cage (Hank Forrester), Rhys Ifans (Corbin O'Brian), Timothy Olyphant (CIA Agent Geneva ), Jaymes Butler (Drill Sgt.); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Max Arvelaiz, Michael Bassick, Douglas Hansen, José Ibáñez, Peter Lawson, Serge Lobo, Bahman Naraghi, Tom Ortenberg, James Stern, Christopher Woodrow; Open Road Films; 2016-Germany/France/USA)

"Stone's take on his virtuous but bland subject is to idolize him without any critique."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Polarizing writer-director Oliver Stone ("JFK"/"Platoon") gives his whistleblower hero Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a self-proclaimed patriot, the Oliver Stone sainthood for a cause  treatment, as he presents a relevant straightforward docudrama on his espionage activities which make him either a criminal or patriotic hero. If you were paying attention, you heard Stone screaming in your ear to heed the warnings of Snowden. It depicts the years from 2004 to 2013, in which Snowden served in the CIA and as a contractor with the National Security Agency as a computer analyst, and became alarmed at his government's secret, warrantless surveillance on ordinary citizens and saw no other recourse but to hack the CIA computers of their covert operations to let the press do their job and inform the public of the violations. As a result he became a fugitive, as of now living in Moscow with his longtime dance instructor girlfriend and facing a trial in the USA for treason if he returns. It's co-written by Kieran Fitzgerald to portray Snowden in a robotic one-dimensional way, that lets us see things only through his eyes. This might be as bad as seeing things only through the government's eyes. It's adapted from two books about the historical figure, one by Luke Harding and the other by Anatoly Kucherena.

High school dropout Snowden joins the Army but finds his legs too brittle for special ops training in Fort Benning. When discharged the conservative brainy nerd lands a terrific job with the CIA as a analyst and is mentored by the serpentine Corbin O'Brian (
Rhys Ifans). He meets through an Internet dating service called Geek Mate the liberal sweet-natured Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and she offers him her support and at times her frustration at his secretive ways. On his job site, he befriends his soul mate spyware developer (Nicolas Cage), whose career is stifled by not playing the right political games.

Stone's film is framed around the then-29-year-old Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room for eight days in June of 2013, and him looking back to tell us his tale. He's with documentary filmmaker Linda Poitras (Melissa Leo) and The Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). Snowden releases to them on a data card the many documents he gathered on the government's secret operations at the risk of being charged with espionage. When this gets printed in the Guardian and picked up later by CNN, Snowden goes on the run in Hong Kong until he soon gets a flight out of Hong Kong and is given exile status by Putin.

After showing him on the job in locations as diverse as 'The Hill' in Virginia, Geneva, London, Japan and Oahu, Stone narrows things down to one major unsettling problem for the techie maven,
Is the U.S. doing right in spying on its own citizens in the name of national security? Other things are broached but never pursued.

Stone's take on his virtuous but bland subject is to idolize him without any critique. What's missing is fire in his belly for going beyond Snowden's adventures to examine in more detail what dangers face America from within and what such spying means to its democracy. It could have been a more adventurous film study if it took more chances and dug deeper than the surface. When you compare this film with
Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 Snowden documentary “Citizenfour”, it seems like a necessary film for its time but one that's less impressive.

REVIEWED ON 9/16/2016       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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