Snowden (2016)

(Video on-Demand, February 2017) I expect that we’ll continue to talk about Edward Snowden and whether he’s a hero or villain for a long while: Snowden is young, and currently being used as a pawn in geopolitical games … his place in history hasn’t been finalized yet. (I said the same three years ago about Julian Assange in the context of The Fifth Estate, and my opinion of Assange today is strikingly different than what it was back then—people’s lives aren’t limited to a single act.) Still, it takes someone like Oliver Stone to boldly delve into events barely more than three years old and try to come to some kind of a conclusion. As a look at Snowden-the-man, the film is definitely on its subject’s side: He’s shown as a disappointed idealist, a patriot whose opinions eventually diverge from the system he’s been asked to serve. Technical wizard, sympathetic boyfriend, fugitive of circumstances: Snowden is all of those and the film creates a clean dramatic arc for him as he’s invited at the centre of the American Intelligence Community and comes to dislike what he sees. Joseph Gordon-Lewitt is very good as Snowden, incarnating a real-life subject to the point where the film can afford to feature the real Snowden showing up in the film’s coda. It’s also kind of amazing to see Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo play real people that we can recognize (respectively: Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras). Stone’s direction is assured, and his script manages to make a complex subject matter accessible even to non-specialists: As an exploration of IT security matters, Snowden is better than most similar films, with acceptable deviations from reality as we know it now. (It’s also, crucially, consistent with Citizenfour.) It’s relatively entertaining, although not without a few lengthier sections and some overly dramatic moments. Snowden is not quite as visually daring as The Fifth Estate (nor is Snowden as fascinating/infuriating as Assange), but it’s a more controlled film, and one that, I suspect, will stand the test of time quite a bit better. But that will depend quite a bit on what happens to Snowden next…

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