Snowden ⭐⭐½

The film begins with a brave or begrudging acknowledgement, depending on your viewpoint, as Edward Snowden, now exiled in HK, meets for the first time film-maker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald, an event that leads to the gripping documentary that is Citizenfour, released back in 2014. It then becomes inescapable that this celebrity-endorsed, Oliver Stone-directed Hollywood version will have to exist under the shadow of that film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is excellent, capturing vividly both his look and his voice, while Stone’s direction has the occasionally inspired visuals that help propel an often dry narrative along when needed. It is also never a bad thing to keep the issues of privacy and illegal government surveillance under the spotlight (especially in light of the recent Snooper’s Charter in the UK, for example, of which the timing of the film’s release surely is no coincidence). Unfortunately, those admirable things aside, this is also a film that shudders to a halt during scenes of exposition or when presenting Snowden’s perspective. While it fills in some background information that the documentary was unable to cover and we get to know more about the conflicted relationship between Snowden and his long-time girlfriend, there is little else of substance here that isn’t already in the earlier film. Stone’s film try to play out the events like a thriller when the reality of the matter is a more of an internal struggle than a physical one; while distracting appearances by Rhys Ifan, Timothy Olyphant and Nicolas Cage only serve to make it feel less authentic and more Hollywoodized. In the end, it is the relevance of the film that is most in doubt: as anyone who has seen the documentary will not find this any more engaging or informative and anyone who hasn’t I reckon will still be disinterested in this version, no matter who’s in the cast.

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