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Snowden Film Review - Wasted Potential

Updated on October 26, 2016

About a year ago I heard that a feature film was going to be made about the controversial figure of Edward Snowden, the Ex- CIA employee and former contractor for the United States government who stole and leaked top secret documents to the press. I was excited when I heard about the idea of a feature film about Snowden because his story is very interesting and surprisingly unknown to the masses. The good news became even better when I realized that Oliver Stone the Oscar wining director and political thrillers specialist will be behind the
camera for this one and his resume includes important titles like Nixon, Wall Street, and JFK. Stone is known for his sensitive subjects and distrust of governments and even though he didn’t really give us anything worthwhile in nearly a decade, Snowden falls right into his area of expertise and seeing his name attached to the project was good news to many. However, somehow along the way Oliver Stone managed to disappoint to a certain extent with Snowden. The film is important but it could have been a much better film going experience
than just an interesting story with a good cast.

Let’s start with the positives first. The film introduces a very important true story about government surveillance of pretty much anything you can think of (every word you type, your bank accounts etc) and the person who decided to expose that secret to the public so that everyone knows that privacy is just a dream. Surprisingly the name Snowden is usually used by many people as the person behind Wikileaks (that was of course Julian Assange), or a traitor who gave away important government secrets to the public. This film helps greatly in clearing the vagueness behind this controversial character and should be an eye opening experience even if Stone is completely and expectedly is on Snowden’s side. The cast is fantastic especially the underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Inception) in the title role, he is able to show a good range of emotions and he even transformed his voice to sound exactly like Snowden.

A great cast, interesting story, and a capable director…what went wrong with Snowden? First of all to get it out of the way: Snowden is not a bad movie.

The movie somehow manages to waste a huge potential and it surely won’t be recognized come awards time like its sibling “Citizen Four” the 2014 documentary about Edward Snowden that won multiple awards including the Oscar. The screenplay plays it very safe and straight forward in Snowden, there is no real dramatic depth to the proceedings especially Snowden’s motivations which is perceived as patriotic and that’s it. The film spends a great deal of time on his relationship with his girlfriend instead of provoking the audience and make them feel the urgent threat of surveillance. Stone is known to be a proficient provocative director but in this one he fails to provoke the audience and when the moment comes to reveal the secrets to the public, pretty much nothing hits our guts and Snowden’s sense of accomplishment when it’s all said and done doesn’t carry any dramatic heft. Snowden’s lack of thrills and tension especially that it handles such an interesting subject is surprising, and in that aspect it reminded me of Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” which also lacked any kind of thrills.

Suggesting that a 6.5/10 film (my rating) should be seen is a bit far-fetched but I’ll say give it shot because the subject is important and especially if you look at the miniscule amount of movies nowadays tackling important subjects like this one. Snowden is an interesting film but it is a thriller that doesn’t thrill.

Are you going to watch Snowden?

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      Sam 16 months ago

      Great review