Snowden: A Well-Acted, Beautifully Shot & Lengthy Telling of the Edward Snowden Story [Review]

by | Sep 19, 2016

This week I saw another Based on Real Life Events Drama.  There were no wizards, no aliens, no special effects.  But it was entertaining nonetheless.  Snowden is based on a book called The Snowden Files: The Inside Story on the World’s Most Wanted Man which is all about how Edward Snowden met with journalists and the events that happened after.  The movie is better.  It focuses more on Edward Snowden’s story and less on how hard it was for the journalists to get the story published which was a good thing.

snowden_ver2_xlgThe NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency’s employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.  

teaserjpgAs genres go, Real Life Events Dramas are pretty forgiving, at least as far as visuals.  You can have a movie entirely shot in offices and bunkers, or courtrooms and hotel rooms and it doesn’t make much difference because the point is what the story is about.  So it’s refreshing to see a film as visually appealing as this.  And it is – Snowden is gorgeous.  It is unnecessarily beautiful, taking every opportunity to make a beautiful shot whenever it can for no reason that I can tell other than that Film Is a Visual Medium.  I appreciated that, it made sitting through the 2 hours and 14 minutes of this film much easier.snowdenclip-600x333

Also amazing was the acting.  Special Effects are expensive so I’m pretty sure they dumped most of the $40 million it cost to make Snowden into casting (and also writing).  It was a good choice.  You can’t get better than Joseph Gordon-Levitt (for anything.  at all.  I crush on that man so hard) and he was absolutely perfect as the conflicted CIA employee.    Rhys Ifans was great as well, he was so sinister as the villain, justifying the government’s position with absolute conviction and compelling as a threat.  There wasn’t a weak performance in the film, I could mention everyone for good acting (except Nick Cage, that guy bugs me, don’t know why).   

snowden_05I had trouble during some of the film knowing what was going on. The relationships between the government security divisions and their special rules were not clear to me so there were times I was watching people do things that didn’t make sense for reasons I didn’t understand.  I suppose Oliver Stone could have put some more explanation in the movie, but it was already 2 hours and 14 minutes long, so that wouldn’t be a good answer.  Maybe he could have taken out some stuff at the end – after the plot’s climax was resolve the movie just kept going and going, like they didn’t want to just roll credits.  If the gravity of the subject matter was not demonstrated in the body of the film (and it was), then tacking on extra stuff at the end (when your audience has to pee) is not the answer.

Overall though, Snowden gave us a clear impression of the sheer unimaginable scope of the government power to snoop.  It showed why someone who cared for his country would choose exile over remaining silent about it.  It showed Edward Snowden moving from idealist to doubter to whistleblower.  Best of all, it showed the common response:  “Why does it matter?  I have nothing to hide.” and argues against it.  Snowden draws the line between things being used for security and things being used for other purposes and it makes the distinction beautifully.6016

So is Snowden worth watching?  Yup, or at least it is in my opinion.  The Security versus Privacy debate is one of the issues of our time and Edward Snowden is worth knowing about.   This would be a movie I’d say I’ll see again but I’m probably not going to.  Still not my genre, I need to see me some CGI monsters or something.