Ben Schnetzer, Drama, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Melissa Leo, Nicolas Cage, Oliver Stone, Parker Sawyers, Rhys Ifans, Scott Eastwood, Shailene Woodley, Snowden, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto
It seemed like a perfect fit if there ever were one: legendary left-wing extremist and conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone taking on the true story of Edward Snowden and the NSA surveillance. In many ways, Snowden is some of the director’s best work in years, making a compelling thriller out of the true events, humanizing Snowden and making him into a relatable and inspiring lead. While the film gets fairly preachy at points, and struggles to justify its long runtime, it’s a well made and fascinating adventure that successfully captures the motivations and life of Snowden.
Based on a true story, the film begins with Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explaining his story to a reporter (Zachary Quinto) and documentary filmmaker (Melissa Leo). Snowden covers his lifelong desire to serve his country, from his days in the military to his eventual recruitment with the CIA, and his blooming romance with his girlfriend Lindsey (Shailene Woodley). But within his desire to serve, Snowden discovers a horrifying secret within the government that causes him to question everything he’s ever known about his family.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast; not only does he capture the mannerisms and vocal quality of Snowden, but he makes him an interesting, relatable character that we want to root for. Snowden’s struggle between serving his government and staying true to its ideals drives everything, and this inner turmoil drives Levitt to deliver a masterful performance. Accompanying him is an extraordinary Shailene Woodley, who in many ways humanizes our perspective of Snowden, as their relationship shows the human cost behind a moral struggle.
Of course, being an Oliver Stone movie, Snowden features dozens of major actors in supporting roles, from an intimidating Rhys Ifans to a gloriously entertaining Nicolas Cage. The cast does a good job, and the depth of talent given to these characters makes the world feel authentic and lived in. While the film combines events and characters rather haphazardly, Stone does a great job with the dialogue; the script balances the technical complexity with a conversational, witty nature that never undermines the seriousness philosophical debate regarding the NSA.
Stone’s film is long, and at points it can be meandering, but while it’s hard to stay focused in a film with so many moving legs, the smooth direction and unique camerawork makes the film compelling. While their are many parts that feel strained and repetitive, the way Stone structures his film speeds up the storyline and cuts much of the exposition, making for a more involved experience.
Stone is notoriously known for his political opinions, and the audience for Snowden will surely represent how his views are reviewed. It’s very one-sided, and those opposed to Snowden will leave the film feeling the same way. As someone who is personally a strong supporter of Edward Snowden and his actions, I found much enjoyment in this film, but it’s a film with a very select audience.
Snowden is a thrilling and very well made historical drama, featuring a great performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and one of Stone’s better scripts. While it does suffer from its length, it serves as a healthy reminder that nobody makes movies like Oliver Stone, and we should value his work. Grade: B