Snowden Review

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Oliver Stone's Snowden is a fascinating look at cyber-warfare and government conspiracies, but its cold approach and lifeless characters make it hard to truly engage with the story of Edward Snowden, despite JGL giving it his all as the relatively young computer "hacker".


Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to glorified biopics, having directed JFK, Nixon, W., and many others, which you’d think would make him the perfect fit to tell the story of the cyber-celebrity Edward Snowden and his “findings” while being employed for the NSA, yet Snowden feels like one of Stone’s weaker biopics, settling for a fairly straight-forward first half approach to Snowden’s life and then twisting into a conspiracy-soaked thriller that ditches its characters in attempt to uncover some shady government secrets throughout its second half.

I’m going to be very straight-forward with my knowledge (or lack thereof) of Edward Snowden and his claims of discovering some seriously shady government activity. The gist of it is that he apparently found out that the government has not just been spying on suspected terrorists or “bad guys”, but everyone, including their own citizens — just for the sake of it. His findings also detail how easily accessible everyone’s personal things are, with the government tapping into turned off webcams from computers and even secure emails, photos and messages stored within our own smart phones — all with a few simple clicks on a keyboard.

It’s a crazy concept that I have no idea if is true or not, but one would think that it would make for a suspenseful and thrilling movie.

Unfortunately, Snowden is a slow film that takes its sweet time establishing Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a man, with morals and principles. Snowden is an interesting character that JGL plays with a questionable accent and a stiff demeanor.

Edward Snowden isn’t a hero — he thinks of himself as a patriot that simply wants the people to know what is going on behind closed government doors. JGL plays him with a likable, yet distant dose of nobility, keeping Snowden’s intentions mostly on the forefront, while his actions remain in the shadows.

It’s sometimes frustrating watching Ed interact with others, because you almost always know that he’s going to wreck whatever relationship that he has with other people, because he cares so much about his job.

This brings in Shailene Woodley‘s character; Ed’s girlfriend Lindsay. Their relationship is that of a complex one, with Lindsay knowing almost nothing about Ed’s job, while Ed spends a majority of the film freaking out over what he knows and what he wants to tell others. There’s almost no chemistry between the two of them and the script doesn’t bother to go anywhere with their relationship, which makes you wonder what the film would look like without Woodley in it at all.

Snowden is just a slow boil of emotions and ideas until it eventually (and I do mean eventually) spills over the edge in the quietest of ways.

The fact that it takes Ed so long to act is what really makes the film suffer, because the film’s entire story feels like something that could have easily been avoided or handled differently had it not been based on true events.

I’m not sure how true the events of Snowden are, but there’s definitely a sense of realism as Stone’s film skids by at a sluggish pace, never truly becoming something too engaging or exciting.

Sure, it’s somewhat exciting learning about the tech side of the government and truly understanding how much of modern warfare is fought with cyber-security and cyber-terrorism, but it’s also a bit confusing for those that don’t have a sharp eye for that sort of thing.

I love the tech world and found this film to be both eye-opening and depressing, yet I still thought that Snowden could’ve been approached differently to make it more accessible to audiences.

And maybe that’s why I’m not all too moved by it? Is Snowden a film that’s only going to resonate with those that have a clear understanding of how government intelligence works or is Snowden simply going to grab the attention of those crazies that think 9/11 was a cover up and that the government is always out to do the wrong thing whenever possible?

I’m not saying that the government hasn’t or won’t spy on us unwillingly through the means of technology, but shouldn’t a film that makes such bold statements be a tad more exhilarating?

Snowden is a film that simply goes through the motions. It establishes who the main character is and introduces a few side characters for him to interact with, but it never quite sticks as a film that has a clear message to present. JGL‘s performance isn’t Oscar-worthy material that will elevate him to new heights, while Stone’s direction is also nothing to write home about.

The entire film feels like something that was bound to happen, yet no one really asked for it. I’m not discrediting the true story, but I am warning you that this is simply Oliver Stone on biopic auto-pilot.

Snowden isn’t a bad film, in fact it’s rather interesting and something to help remind people of just how much personal stuff they shove out there for the entire world to see. Privacy is something that we as American’s definitely take for granted and it really shouldn’t take something like Snowden to remind you of that harsh reality.

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