Who would have thought that the ever bombasti c film director Oliver Stone, the man behind ‘Natural Born Killers’, ‘Platoon’ would have turned his attention to the quiet beauty of a mountainous National Park region in North Wales and make a film about it. Turns out he hasn’t because ‘Snowden’ is about the CIA & NSA analyst Edward Snowden who reveals to the world a whole host of ultra sensitive documents about the US government secret surveillance of its own population. Patriot or traitor is the films question.
Joseph Gordon Levitt turns in an impressive performance as Snowden spilling the secrets to the world via Guardian journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room understandably edgy at the consequences which would see him jailed for his actions. What has driven him to this point is why the film is featured in the films flashback structure where we see him as an idealistic young man training as a solider intent on fighting for his country he dearly loves until he breaks both his legs immediately curtailing his career. Driven by the impact of 9/11 he determines to turn his computer skills to high tech intelligence and surveillance and it’s here that his idealism is corrupted because it’s here that he finds that what he thinks the US stands for – liberty, freedom he later finds is actively being undermined by the hypocrisy of government and the failure of the American dream. Snowden’s tries to defend his idealism to his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Sahilene Woodley) who herself has totally opposing views to his own. But like a drip-drip effect he comes to realise from both the layers of underhand surveillance that the country he loves is not the country he thinks it is.
Stone loves his conspiracy theories and the duplicity of government and it’s a constant theme in his work whether it be, ‘Salvador’, ‘Talk Radio’ and especially ‘JFK’ so ‘Snowden’ continues what is actuality rather than speculative rubbish of conspiracy theories and here he mashes it up with a romantic back story and inevitable political comment (the director’s own) on whether Snowden is hero or villain – though it’s clear that, here, he’s a hero and what sets out as issues which initially are black and white quickly blur and become a moral grey area. In turn this will probably divide audiences who will have their own view about the thousands of documents he released to the press.
Stone has assembled an impressive cast with the ever great and incredibly versatile Rhys Ifans (seemingly using it as an audition for a Bond villain) and the always reliable Tom Wilkinson showing how convincingly good they are at accents (respectively American and Scottish). And even Nicholas Cage, much like Stone, has managed to tone down his hysteria and whereas Stone in the past has thrown everything at the screen before, notably in ‘Natural Born Killers’ there are still some flourishes here but this is not an altogether successful character study of a story that is well known enough to have had its real life character seeking asylum in Russia for the rest of his days. Unfortunately ‘Snowden’ is one of several films about the same subject which has come late to the party after the release of the documentary ‘CitizenFour’ which is, in all honesty, the better film about the same subject.
Here’s the trailer……..