Within the last decade or so, Oliver Stone has directed his career down the path that many older directors tend to follow in their later years. It is not that they become lazy, but it is just that they begin to lose their touch. After a long string of duds populating his filmography, Stone has not made much of an argument against this accusation, but with his latest film Snowden, he might have just proved that he’s still got it. In the very least, he has shown that he is taking a step in the right direction.
Oliver Stone is not a stranger to the political thriller. In fact, he has made some of the best out there from JFK to Wall Street, and Snowden harkens back to his heyday. Based upon the true story of CIA whistleblower turned wanted fugitive Edward Snowden, a man who leaked government secrets concerning massive, nation-wide surveillance that was supposed to have been enacted to fight terrorism, Stone shows that he is as sharp and politically astute as ever with his take on the events that didn’t go down too long ago. It is still fresh on our minds, and sometimes those circumstances can make it a difficult task to adapt something believably to the screen.
Set up as an interview, the film begins in a white, undersaturated hotel room where an interview of Snowden is being started by a journalism team. They close the curtains, soundproof the door with pillows, and place their phones in the microwave. Edward Snowden, played spectacularly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a calm man with a deep, calming voice that seems as though it could never belong to a man in his situation. The interviewers, played by Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson, have to lean in to hear what one of the most wanted men in the U.S. is saying, and, in a way, I did too.
This is not a film about what Snowden did, but about Edward Snowden himself. It is a biopic, albeit it doesn’t go back to Snowden’s birth, but to when he was in the armed forces. His tale begins when he is injured during basic training and is forced to discharge. Of course, there are other ways to serve your country and he goes to the CIA in order to do just that. He blows his superiors away with his technical prowess and is quickly moved up the ranks from CIA employee to contractor of the U.S. government. It is only when he is shown the surveillance technology being used that he begins to get second thoughts, and soon his consciousness gets the best of him.
While there are definitely two sides to every story, Stone’s side shows Snowden in a very heroic light. This is not a film about Edward Snowden the “traitor,” but about Edward Snowden the “hero.” The CIA and NSA are made out to seem like snakes and Snowden is treated like a self-sacrificing underdog. My point being that this film is biased and it is quite obvious where Stone lands on his opinion of Snowden’s actions. I agree with what the man did, and I have researched the subject quite a bit, so I didn’t have much of a problem with it.
Apart from the biased opinion, which may rub some people the wrong way, there is plenty of substance and craftsmanship to admire. Stone is one of the greats, and he shows off his expertise with Snowden. Behind each shot there is ages of experience and maturity, concluding in a cinema-going experience that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. Stone also has a way with actors as his cast is in top form, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt who gives a highlight reel performance as the title character.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt becomes the character, mirroring his walk as well as his talk in an exceptional fashion. His voice is unrecognizable and when you are watching him on screen, you forget that he is playing a character. It is important for a biopic to have an actor that can completely encapsulate the embodiment of the subject he or she is playing, and Stone has found that someone in Gordon-Levitt.
Snowden is not a perfect film, nor does it stand with Oliver Stone’s greatest works, but it does signify Stone’s willingness to hold on and that his final film is still far along the timeline. It is also an extremely fascinating film about a truly fascinating subject who is still feeling the aftermath of his actions as I write this. Edward Snowden is currently maintaining political asylum in Russia where the U.S. cannot touch him. There are petitions being made to help get Edward Snowden pardoned so that he can return to his homeland. I hope this film helps that cause.
3 out of 5