Friday, September 16, 2016

Movie with Abe: Snowden

Directed by Oliver Stone
Released September 16, 2016

Making recent headlines into movies is always an intriguing and risky experiment since most viewers will remember what really happened. That’s not to suggest that events being exaggerated or altered for dramatic effect is a concern, but rather that there will be a tendency to imitate so that those watching will be prompted to remember them and remark on how close this cinematic impression really is. Most people know the name Edward Snowden, who came to fame even before he was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, and Oliver Stone’s new drama fills in the whole story of who this famed whistleblower was and how he got to the place where the whole world learned his name.

Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is first introduced in 2013 as he meets filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in Hong Kong to discuss the information that he believes people must see. He looks identical to the real Snowden, and it’s only when flashbacks are triggered by Snowden recounting how he first came to work with the CIA and the NSA that a picture of a younger, more idealistic patriot emerges. The brilliant young mind is loyal to his country and identifies as a conservative, a point of contention with the object of his affection, dancer Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), who tries to get the introverted analyst to come out of his shell.

As Snowden covers the numerous different positions he held making systems more efficient and augmenting surveillance and analysis techniques for the United States government, it becomes clear that he realized that what he was doing on behalf of the agencies he worked for crossed a line that was justified time and time again by unreasonable excuses and then misreported to the American public. That trajectory is a very intriguing one to follow, which is very well-showcased by the energetic images and framing of Snowden as a character in this film. Since it is an Oliver Stone film, the level of paranoia and scenery-chewing can often be extreme, but as a whole it works well.

This is the second time in two years that Gordon-Levitt has portrayed the subject of a recent Oscar-winning documentary. This reviewer wasn’t terribly fond of “Citizenfour,” Poitras’ film that took home the Best Documentary award in 2014, and is pleased to report that this dramatic reinterpretation offers a much more compelling and engaging look at Snowden. Gordon-Levitt puts on a certain voice to imitate Snowden that initially seems forced and exaggerated but as the film progresses becomes more normative and standard. Woodley proves a strong choice to play the sweet-natured Lindsay who supports her boyfriend despite his unwillingness to share any of his work with her, and background players including Leo, Quinto, Ben Schnetzer, and, in all seriousness, Nicolas Cage, contribute to the overall experience. The editing works well to keep the film on track, and its use of many locations is an affirming asset rather than a distraction. Clocking in at two hours and fourteen minutes, this film serves as a totally engaging portrait of a man who turned his whole life upside down and opened the world up to many questions as a result.


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