review by Bobby Blakey
It is rare that we get films based on such controversial real life events so close to when they actually occurred especially when the subject of the story is still alive. Director Oliver Stone is known for taking on these kinds of stories and this time is stepping into the world of surveillance with Snowden. The film features a great cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, and Nicolas Cage, but does it manage to bring his story to light effectively or is it a tale not worth smuggling out to theaters?
Snowden follows NSA employee Edward Snowden who leaks thousands of classified documents to the press unveiling the NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques throughout the world. This is one of those controversial stories with people on both sides of the issue having their own opinions and I was curious if this film was going to be trying to choose a side or just tell his story. While it is clear that Stone is on Snowden’s side in the issue, this film is crafted to not only tell the story of what happened, but to humanized Snowden in a way that the media never did. Throughout the stories unfolding in the press we were subjected to just the supposed facts and his illegal activities with a lot of it glossing past the importance to why he did it. This story makes sure to show us where he came from and how he got into the position he was in as well as his personal life and relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills who was also often times raked over the coals in the press. This direction allows he audience to see not just the man, but the effect his decision had an those around him and what he gave up to do what he felt was right. The cast all do a great job, but this is Levitt’s show and he is all in. He is always great in any role he takes on, but here he embodies Snowden and brings all the emotion and awkwardness needed to bring him to life on the screen.
Outside of Woodley, who is great as well, most of the cast have very small but pivotal parts in the film. One of the best is a small role from Nicolas Cage where his toned down performance reminds you of how great an actor he can be with the right role. Where the film struggles is the overall execution. It has to be hard to tell a story that the audience already knows the outcome and still make it intriguing and entertaining. Here there is a great story with great performances, but no edge to it. There is never a moment where you feel the impact of what is actually happening. The pacing is so slow at times that you forget that there is something happening that changes the country. I found myself interested but not invested at times. When he is smuggling out the info and then on the run this should have been really tense and instead just felt like there was no real danger or suspense at all. I know Stone was trying to go with real life and not do some Hollywood spin, but it was just such a missed opportunity that would have elevated the film to another level and given it the impact this story needed and deserves.
I had the joy of seeing this film at the Snowden Live Fathom Events screening before its's home release that kicked off with a fun turn off your cell phone message from Oliver Stone infusing the concern of surveillance as well as disrupting the movie. After the movie was over they had a cool live cast Q&A panel that featured Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Edward Snowden himself live from Moscow. This conversation ended up being more entertaining than some aspects of the film itself as you got to hear about what went into making the film and the actors experiences with it, but more so hearing Snowden himself lift the veil to shine even more light on the scenario and how many other people had been trying to bring this to light through the proper channels and just being ignored. It was a fun informative discussion that talked over a variety of topics from the film to tips on protecting yourself from the government surveillance all wrapping up with a celebrating of Oliver Stone’s birthday and the host leading all the live theaters watching in singing him happy birthday.
This was the perfect event for a film like this that tackles an issue that is very real in the world and love him or hate him Snowden did the right thing risking his own life to expose it. The film has some missteps in execution, but does work overall to tell his story in a way the press never bothered to let you in on. This is a story of our country betraying us and the man that tried to take them on and for that alone should be seen by all.