Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson, Scott Eastwood,
“Snowden” has problems, and it starts with director Oliver Stone. The controversial, three time Oscar winner hasn’t really made a good film since 1995’s “Nixon” (ironically the last time he was nominated). His notion of more being more always distracts and takes away from whatever current agenda or factual story he is peddling to the big screen. Still his former clout means something, as he boasts an impressive cast roster. His last decade of films “W.” (too soon), “World Trade Center” (way too soon), “Alexander” (a disaster) and the sequel to his 1987 “Wall Street” proved he is completely out of touch with what modern audiences want in a cinematic experience. “Snowden” too fails, as it doesn’t offer anything we don’t already know following numerous documentaries, articles, and interviews.
“You can serve your country in other ways,” the military doctor tells a young Edward Snowden (Levitt) when he breaks his leg during Army training. He takes his curious and brilliant mind to the CIA, where he is groomed and befriended by Corbin O’Brian (Ifans), both instructor and assignment director. Snowden quickly proves his capabilities beyond other recruits and advances quickly, traveling the globe as a virtual spy in China, Switzerland and Japan. When Snowden learns the US Government is spying on every computer, mobile device in the hand of every person spanning the globe, he chooses to be the bearer of information that will allow the world to decide right or wrong. “The only thing you are really protecting is the supremacy of your country”.
Perhaps a more qualified and savvy director could have made this familiar story more cinematically interesting.
Levitt once again dissolves into a role very different than what he has played previous. As with last year in “The Walk”, his mannerisms, facial hair, look and speech patterns really evoke what we have seen of Snowden in the media. Still it feels more like an impersonation than performance, perhaps because the real Snowden is used so often in the film. Even Woodley (“Divergent”, “The Descendants”) delivers a compelling portrayal of Snowden’s longtime girlfriend. What Stone does with the two hour plus running time is try to make this a love story, a thriller, a suspense ride and a docu-drama. Use of multiple camera types create a distracting and noticeable change in quality from scene to scene, adding up to messy patchwork cinematography that is off-putting.
With a lot of information and historical background of the character, we begin in 2005 and crawl towards present day. Most of the film deals in dialogue, not movement or any real sense of motion. The camera issue aside, in a one on one scene with Snowden and Laura Poitras (Leo) inside the Hong Kong hotel room, Stone goes full documentary style with the editing. Again this scene, and many others, regurgitate what most already saw in the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour (2014). Perhaps a more qualified and savvy director could have made this familiar story more cinematically interesting (Danny Boyle comes to mind). As it is now, it’s terribly dull and lifeless despite the talent involved.
With each film, the once great Oliver Stone, continues to prove his misunderstanding of modern movie goers.