Today: February 29, 2024

Snowden Review

At one point touted as a potential Oscar contender Oliver Stone’s Snowden seemingly came and went without a trace. Swamped beneath the more politically safe LA LA Land and Moonlight, Snowden is a film that is potentially too volatile to have award ceremonies willing to touch it. Or is it that Stone has lost his edge?

This is a director who has never shied from tackling big issues head on. The man made a film about the JFK assassination, a short five years after 9/11 made World Trade Center and while George Bush was still in office made W. In the era of “fake news” Snowden doesn’t just touch on hot topics, it hits them head on. But does Stone manage to hack the whistleblower or has he been compromised by something shadier.

The film charts Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) from a want-to-be special forces recruit to a highly impressive NSA analyst, a conservative patriot all the way through to a man who literally spilled his country’s deepest espionage tactics to the world.

Snowden is unquestionably an interesting character, a conflicted intellect who battled with his patriotism and what he deemed to be right and wrong in the eyes of invading people’s privacy. But for much of the film, and it’s unlike Stone, there isn’t a coherent argument. Instead Snowden maps out the events. Trying, and for the most part failing, to inject any real intrigue, pathos or genuine humanity to the title character.

Only in its latter stages do you feel that Stone’s visuals are really making a play for the point they’re trying to make. Snowden speaking to one of his superiors on a comically large monitor looms over him, an authority figure so overwrought evil you wonder if Darth Vader is about to appear behind him and attempt a Force death grip on the plucky young hero. For a film about a man who wanted to challenge the establishment the film about him feels frustratingly mundane. Even events that should be thrilling fall flat. Take the moment Snowden smuggles the files out of a military grade government building, it should feel like the scene from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it should be nail-biting, it should have you on the edge of your seat, it should make you want to root for your protagonist but instead it’s plodding.

In its final moment Snowden gives a genuine insight into the man that tried to bring down an empire. It’s a heartfelt and honest glimpse that goes some way to clawing back some of sentiment the film has otherwise been lacking. But as clever as it is it’s too little too late.

A film and real life story that offers up huge narrative potential but never dares to deep dive into what Snowden really means in the modern world of online espionage. In short, Snowden feels hacked.  

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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