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The Daily Wildcat


    Review: Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ has its highlights but won’t blow you away

    Open Road Films
    Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edward Snowden in “Snowden” released to theatres on Friday, Sept. 16.

    In the society we live in today, sometimes you just get the feeling someone is always watching you. You don’t know how they’re doing it, but even just turning on your phone can feel nerve-racking. Someone out there could be collecting metadata from you.

    These were all mere suspicions, of course, until someone blew the whistle.

    “Snowden,” the new film from director Oliver Stone, takes a dramatized look at the events that led to one of the worst classified information leaks in recent history.

    By this point, many people are aware of the name of Edward Snowden. In 2013, the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and government contractor gave a group of journalists access to classified information regarding the National Security Administration.

    The information about NSA global surveillance programs sent a slight shiver down the spines of many Americans.

    This leak brought on divided opinions, though; some called Snowden a traitor, while others considered him a hero.

    In the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the infamous whistle blower, and does a terrific job at it. He even gets Snowden’s deep, raspy voice just right.

    It also helps that Gordon-Levitt looks pretty identical to Snowden. Seriously — Snowden could play the lead role in a Joseph Gordon-Levitt biopic.

    The film tells the story of Snowden’s discharge from the military, leading to his time working with the CIA and the NSA, while also exploring the nature of his relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who’s played by Shailene Woodley.

    Snowden then becomes conflicted when he must decide whether to keep his successful job and relationship, or to let the world know how the NSA compiles data on the entire U.S. population via technology such as cell phones and laptops. No spoilers here, but Snowden picked the latter.

    Stone’s depiction of this was good, but not great.

    Snowden’s actions sparked worldwide discussions about privacy, government accountability and the basic rights of citizens while also giving your uncle the perfect fodder for politically charged Facebook posts. The film neglects to spend as much time as it should addressing these issues.

    “Snowden” sticks to the facts of what happened for the most part, but it doesn’t explore the underlying implications of what Snowden did.

    As a result, the whole thing feels very safe, and a little bit underwhelming. The film moves at a decent enough pace, but it never feels as compelling as it should.

    The performances, however, do stand out. Gordon-Levitt does great, Woodley holds her own, and so do the rest of the key players. The film does a great job dramatizing the meeting between Snowden and journalists Laura Poitras, portrayed by Melissa Leo, Glenn Greenwald performed by Zachary Quinto and Ewen MacAskill, played by Tom Wilkinson, .

    Nicolas Cage also provides some needed comic relief as Hank Forrester, in a classic Nic Cage performance that showcases why everyone should both love and hate him at the same time.

    These events present a perfect opportunity for a film based on a true story, but Stone fails to take full advantage of the material he has to work with, even though Stone has built his career with films like this.

    The film tends to idolize Snowden at times, more so than it should. He had good intentions for what he did and didn’t hurt anyone while doing it, but still — Snowden did expose classified secrets.

    This bias for Snowden underlies the film and paints him much more of a patriot than a traitor when, really, he embodies both.

    Stone and company should have let the audience decide for themselves whether Snowden’s actions were justified. After all, letting the people decide what’s right always was Snowden’s goal.

    The real Snowden currently resides in Russia, where he was granted asylum after he had to flee the US. He even makes a cringeworthy cameo in the movie. Let’s just say there’s a reason why he became a government contractor and not an actor.

    Still, the film will certainly enlighten and inform those not familiar with what happened, and give those already familiar a more complete picture of the circumstances that led to the leak. Just don’t expect to get blown away.

    At the very least, “Snowden” will make you think twice the next time you use your phone.

    Grade: C+

    Follow Alec Kuehnle on Twitter.

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