Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie with Abe: Citizenfour

Directed by Laura Poitras
Released October 24, 2014

There’s always at least one movie that, for some reason or another, I don’t end up seeing for a while even though I know I should. That film this year is “Citizenfour,” a frontrunner for the Best Documentary Oscar that premiered at the New York Film Festival in October and has been in theatrical release in New York City for two months. I finally made time to see it, and I can report that its subject matter – Edward Snowden – is undeniably interesting, but the way in which these facts are presented and the story is told isn’t nearly as compelling as the information itself.

“Citizenfour,” which refers to the codename that Snowden used when he began communications with filmmaker Laura Poitras, actually involves journalists quite heavily as a part of its narrative. Poitras, who is rarely shown on camera, speaks via intertitles in the first person, explaining how she was first contacted by Snowden and every move she took over the course of the interview and publishing process as a vital participant in the story. Glenn Greenwald, first introduced as a columnist for Salon and then in his position as a reporter for the Guardian, is perhaps the biggest player, seen debriefing Snowden in the comfort a Hong Kong hotel room and then defending what he has leaked on national newscasts.

The best opportunity provided by “Citizenfour” is the chance to see Snowden and how he operates. His secretive tendencies make him seem almost mythical as the film introduces its documentary content in a thriller style reminiscent of “Man on Wire,” and then he seems much more normal and human in person. Yet there’s still an intense intellectual paranoia present, as Snowden details the many ways that the government might be spying on them or listening to them. He’s a fascinating protagonist in a nonfiction story, committed to what he believes is right above all else and ready to unapologetically share what he knows. What the film offers in content it lacks in style, as the editing feels very amateurish and sudden, with scenes ending on an abrupt and unpolished note before leading into the next set of interviews or other footage. Journalistic integrity is not in question here, since the journalists being part of the story only makes it more worthwhile, but a hot-button topic doesn’t translate to a slam-dunk film in this case.


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