“Snowden”... It Ain’t “Sully”

By Scott Kurland
Film: Snowden
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage
Rated R
Director: Oliver Stone



You know a film has missed the mark when it gets delayed for almost a year and a half. It's an even bigger problem when said film is based on a true story yet the film opens with the following words: “This is a dramatization.” So, in other words, I’m paying all this money to watch an episode of “America’s Most Wanted?” That’s what it felt like when I saw this week’s film “Snowden”. This is another one of Oliver Stones’ attempts to get to the bottom of a conspiracy and free Americans from the eyes of big brother. Let’s find out how bad this film truly is shall we?

“Snowden” tells the story of Edward Joseph Snowden, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a former member of the CIA and contractor for the NSA. Snowden goes from being one of the key members of a government surveillance organization to a whistleblower when he takes all of his intel and brings it to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, journalists Glen Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). We also learn how Snowden joined the CIA  under the mentorship of Corbin O’Brien (Rhys Ifans), became a field agent, and fell in love with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Are you confused? Yup, so am I, because this is an Oliver Stone movie.

Last week I reviewed “Sully,” and that was a much better biopic. Oliver Stone used two books about Snowden to write this movie, talked to Snowden himself , and yet he still made an undecipherable movie. There’s too much going on and not enough time to tell. We’re introduced to characters who don’t have enough time to become memorable. I know they’re based on real people, but if you don’t have the time to explain who they are, don’t include them. Nicolas Cage also shows up in the movie. I don’t know why he’s there except to tell Snowden that the Government they work for is corrupt. Then, he disappears for two hours only to show up for a short scene at the end where he proudly exclaims: "Hey!The kid did it!" Why they felt the need to include that in the movie is a mystery.

Stone is always dead-set to get to the bottom of a conspiracy and figure out why Uncle Sam is screwing over the American public, but he’s done it before. He solved those mysteries in “Platoon”, “Wall Street”, “Born on The 4th of July”, and “JFK”. “Snowden” is his attempt to make us see who the heroes really are. What Stone failed to realize is that we already had a great biopic about Snowden. It was called “Citizenfour” directed by Laura Poitras who is played by Melissa Leo in the film. We see the making of a better film inside this movie.

I don’t fault the actors. Everyone gives stellar performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. However, I don’t know why Gordon-Levitt is doing a voice when the real Snowden sounds more like Gordon-Levitt’s regular speaking voice. The voice Gordon-Levitt uses sounds like if Janet Reno was a Muppet in Jim Henson’s workshop. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s one of my favorite actors and I’d watch him read the phone book. I liked him in “Looper” and “The Walk”. I even liked the film he made with Leonard Nimoy when he was twelve called “Holy Matrimony”. I don’t blame him for this film. Nor do I blame Shailene Woodley. They’re both trying and acting their asses off. It’s just a bad script and an even worse production because of Oliver Stone. 


“Snowden” is too much of a mess. The plot is all over the place. Furthermore, let me get back to the  “This is a dramatization” line that opens the film. They open this movie by letting you know that 90% of the film's details are exaggerated. That’s what trashy crime shows do to catch criminals and serial killers. How are we supposed to root for a man when we don’t know if his entire story is being told correctly? 

“Snowden” could have been a great film in another directors hands. The story of a man who saw something and said something became a Tom Clancy novel with too many characters and no time to tell it. I felt like I was trapped in the movie theater for days watching “Snowden”. Granted it was only 2hrs and 14mins, but I just wanted this film to end. If you want a good telling of “Snowden,” watch “Citizenfour”, but do yourself a favor an skip “Snowden”. What could have been a brilliant film was instead a mess of conspiracy theories and bad writing.


REVIEW RATING: D- 
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