Snowden

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 'I spent about four hours sitting with Ed as well as his long-time girlfriend Lindsay and the three of us spoke at length'
"Oliver Stone takes the story and gives it slick mainstream polish, bringing the issue home in a way that is understandable and urgent, even if his hero ends up seeming almost too good to be true."

With the news cycle seeming set to spin in recent years, it's amazing how quickly a story can disappear from the headlines - whether its girls kidnapped by Boko Harem in Nigeria, the aftermath of a hurricane or even the story of former CIA computer ace Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked a slew of documents that showed the US was engaged in massive global surveillance. Now Oliver Stone takes the story and gives it slick mainstream polish, bringing the issue home in a way that is understandable and urgent, even if his hero ends up seeming almost too good to be true.

The subject was sure to be magnetic to Stone, who has always been interested in power and secrecy in government, but he deserves credit here for taking a man who is, in essence, a bit of a quiet geek and a long way from the director's political viewpoint, and crafting a film that grips from the start. By using a clandestine meeting between Snowden, journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson, whose Scots accent is roamin' in the gloamin') and documentarian Laura Poitras - who would go on to make Citizenfour about him - as the film's framing device, he creates a sense of tense danger from the start, no easy feat considering we all know Snowden remains at liberty.

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The reason much of the tension works is that, Stone not only asks us to judge the machinations of the government but to see this from the perspective of Snowden's character - who starts off as a dyed in the wool right-wing patriot - and partially through the prism of his relationship with his long-term girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Jospeh Gordon-Levitt is excellent in the central role, exuding a quiet seriousness of a thoughtful man who finds his belief system increasingly questioned, although Woodley, despite being an excellent actress, has little to work with beyond being a sort of liberal cheerleader and Jiminy Cricket to Snowden's conscience.

There are moments of silly grandstanding, such as when Snowden's boss (Rhys Ifans, suitably sinister) looms on a massive TV screen during a conversation about surveillance, just in case we don't get the Big Brother message quite loudly enough. There's also an almost laughable five minutes during which Stone appears to be attempting to show us that Snowden is not just a braniac but also great in bed and a tremendous cook.

Better, are the smaller details, such as Snowden's ever-present Rubik's cube, which becomes almost like a talisman. Stone and his co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald also deserve a lot of credit for rendering the technobabble down to an understandable level, outlining a set of surveillance versus claims of 'national security' equations that add up to a lot to think about as you leave the cinema.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2016
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Snowden packshot
Biopic of the whistleblower.

Director: Oliver Stone

Writer: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, Logan Marshall-Green, Joely Richardson, Keith Stanfield, Melissa Leo, Ben Schnetzer, Tom Wilkinson, Parker Sawyers, Christy Meyer

Year: 2016

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany, France

Festivals:

SSFF 2016
London 2016

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If you like this, try:

Citizenfour