Oliver Stone directs Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Rhys Ifans in this biopic on the NSA whistleblower who discovers the US really is watching everyone, all the time.
Who would want to be a whistleblower? They risk their lives, destroy their livelihoods and decimate their reputations and relationships to bring us “truths” that we the public just shrug our shoulders about. That disconnected ennui sadly limits Snowden the movie – what he uncovers and proves is terrifying but also something most sensible people probably already suspected; the security services spy on all of us via our own elaborate tech. It is about as surprising a revelation as you cannot breathe in outer space… When we were faced with Snowden’s damning evidence, nothing massively changed in how we conducted ourselves or the silent pact we have made with the intelligence agencies of the Western Hemisphere. The stakes for him personally are high (though we never see his life threatened explicitly or even implicitly) but the outcome is fumbled. Stone seems constrained by telling a story still in motion, about a life still in the spotlight. His Jim Morrison and Jim Garrison benefited from a chunk of critical distance. He could approach them with a freedom build an exciting movie on. Here you get the feeling a regular journeyman might have churned out the same staid drama, at best a nice enough visual modern history lesson. Only the late boardroom meeting with Ifans’ shadowy CIA chief’s massive face and some slightly trippy epileptic attacks have any of that Olly inventive mastery shown in the 80s and 90s. And this should all be paranoid bait for his hungry fish mouth. Still there are plenty of stars dotted around to keep it trundling along. Woodley has a nice chemistry with our eponymous hero, Nicholas Cage seems to be entering a similar stage of his faltering career as late period Dennis Hopper – managing to be a freak yet paternal, all American yet out of time, in just a few choice scenes (a positive development). And Gordon-Levitt as always is excellent, he saves the movie with a tight, simple central performance. Imagine what he could do given an exciting script?