Oliver Stone always likes to put the American government in an uncomfortable position. It is therefore not a surprise that the subject of his newest film is Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower that leaked thousands of NSA documents, revealing the mass surveillance of civilians.
Snowden centers on the whistleblower’s story, starting with his time in the military academy and his ascension through the ranks of the CIA and the NSA. We also follow Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in his relationship with photographer Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). The film recounts how Snowden, discovers the mass surveillance program that the US government has on its own as well as foreign citizens, and it poses the question of whether it is necessary evil in the evolving terrorist world, or if it’s an unacceptable violation of privacy.
Oliver Stone tries to present both sides of the argument in this film in the most unbiased way possible. However, you can’t help but notice that he does side with Snowden himself; nevertheless the effort to show evidence from both sides is honorable. Snowden is very much an information session on the Snowden case rather than an actual story of his life; the film informs you of the extent that the surveillance went into our lives, and it certainly makes you paranoid by the time you exit the theater. However, despite so much information we never really dive into the real Snowden, and how he is feeling in all these intense moments. In fact if I were to highlight a misgiving in the film, it’s that it didn’t have a lot of dramatic or emotional impact on the audience, Stone’s hand was more focused on the data than on the sentiment of the film.
The casting had a diverse set of actors; the A-list stars Gordon-Levitt and Woodley get the most screen time, but you also had an array of veterans of the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage in small cameo-like roles. The big bump in this aspect of the film is the fact that the two big stars of the film don’t have any chemistry together; both Gordon-Levitt and Woodley do a fine job in their roles (although perhaps Gordon-Levitt strives more for imitation of Snowden rather than and expression of his character), but they never seem like a believable couple, and it’s a shame that their relationship ended up being a core part of the film.
In the end Snowden is a very informational political viewing, but despite Oliver Stone’s expert hand, the film doesn’t seem to pick itself up from being a shallow skimming of the real events that took place.