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Snowden Movie Review

Sep. 20, 2016
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Snowden (2016)

Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley
Drama, Thriller

Not without fault, Snowden is a cogent film. Its strength is in character interaction, bold statements, and visual nuance. Its weakness is its heavy-hand in establishing some themes and inability to tell the whole story. The screenplay is based on two fiction books: The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. 

Sections of Snowden are shown out of sequence, the film spanning nearly ten years from 2004 through 2013. This enables the audience to better understand some of what has happened, understand Snowden, and cheer for him. And this film really wants you to cheer for Edward Snowden. This leaning does not mean the film has no merit: I think it makes intriguing statements about control and fear, but just keep it in mind when you see it. 

Snowden partially relies on the positive view of polarizing, real and present Edward to create his 2013 fictionalized character. However, the film does work to create a younger Edward: from politically conservative, persistent but inept soldier, to exceptionally skilled but lacking in heart CIA hacker. He ultimately gains heart and does what he feels is right. Each character interaction is telling and moves Edward’s story forward. This is integrally clear with three characters: Corbin, Hank, and Lindsay.

CIA recruiter and instructor Corbin O’Brian and world-weary NSA employee Hank Forrester inform Edward’s thoughts on personal and public responsibility. Corbin is plain about his generation’s failure to stop the September 11th terror attacks and the burden that he bears for it. Hank introduces Edward to the idea and practice of excessive data mining. Forlorn, Hank states, “Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.” Both interactions are heavy-handed, but they do inform the audience of Edward’s beginning dissent.

Edward grows anxious about the excessive data mining and monitoring by the US government. This is mirrored in his relationship with Lindsay Mills: their conflict revolves around his obligation to secrecy and (temporary) ethical disagreements. Edward reveals the extent of computer monitoring to Lindsay and how it could affect her. She initially dismisses this as a non-issue. Viewers will think of friends and family, perhaps themselves upon seeing Lindsay’s dismissal. Whether or not the viewer agrees with Lindsay, this scene compels the viewer to reconsider how they think and feel about this issue.  

Edward understands Lindsay, but his trust has been rattled. He becomes more secretive and passive in their relationship. Lindsay is compelled to trust him and love him because Edward is now a fixture in her life. He is compelled to stay because he needs her and loves her. They’ve grown into a functioning, safe life around each other, and questioning elements of their functioning life (economic status, relationships, government, etc.) could mean jeopardizing the safety they have.

The tone vacillated between willful lightheartedness and dread. Bright, warm colors, upbeat electronic music, and traditional score were used throughout. To instill anxiety and suspicion into the viewer, many proven visual and audio techniques were used, such as Dutch angles, or using smoke and steam symbolically to obscure a character’s perception of reality or right and wrong, forced physical solitude, imposing figures and faces, filming and photographing subjects without their knowledge, grainy shots, low and creeping synth, the sound of gears grinding, and even jump scares.

Snowden is a good film. Don’t watch this film for the whole truth, watch it to be entertained. Watch it to deliberate on the quandary at hand: to ask questions and have conversations about the relationship between government and technology. 

Rating: 3.5/5


Cover Image via Rt.com