Review: Oliver Stone’s biopic of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone's film. Picture: Vertigo

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone's film. Picture: Vertigo - Credit: Vertigo

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rhys Ifans give convincing portrayals in Oliver Stone's provocative and confusing drama.

Snowden (15)

***

Oliver Stone's biopic of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a provocative and confusing film to watch, as I did, less than five hours after Trump had been elected the next president.

Back in the 1990s it used to be that Stone would make great big pyrotechnic spectacles like JFK and NBK that would capture the nation's political situation. Now he just makes straightforward dramas and lets reality provide the mayhem.


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Snowden is a recreation of the days as the story broke, with Edward holed up in a Hong Kong hotel with a film maker and some Guardian journalists, intercut with a look back over his life, starting with his failed attempt to make it as a special forces soldier.

From there he progresses rapidly through the intelligence community, slowly becoming disillusioned with the liberties being taken by the US government's extensive use of phone and email surveillance. The film's view is that he is a patriot, with a strong desire to serve his country.

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It is a good telling of a compelling story with two excellent performances: Jospeh Gordon-Levitt gets Snowden's voice and mannerisms down perfectly, while Rhys Ifans is remarkably convincing as his CIA mentor.

Given their attention to detail, you'd think someone would get Shailene Woodley, who plays his girlfriend, to make a bit of an effort.

She plays her as a standard girlfriend role, with the standard Woodley performance, looking and sounding just exactly like she does in every other film.

Snowden is the embodiment of the modern film hero, a computer nerd with a passion for number puzzles. Who'd have thought Matthew Broderick in War Games would be such a template for 21st century screen protagonists? How much this protagonist is a hero or not is another matter.

The collective reaction to his revelations was largely indifference – people are too hung on connectivity and (mis)information to care too much about the downside.

Like the teacher warning about the dangers of heroin, his message was willfully blocked out.

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