Snowden

September 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo
Directed by: Oliver Stone (“Savages”)
Written by: Kieran Fitzgerald (“The Homesman”) and Oliver Stone (“Savages”)

As one of the best documentaries of the last several years, “Citizenfour” was an endlessly fascinating fly-on-the-wall account of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blowing the whistle on surveillance that the government was doing. Regardless of the audience’s opinion, the footage was unassailably mesmerizing as history, agree with it or not, was being made. It’s a film that didn’t necessarily need a dramatizing, but as a person, Snowden could stand to be understood and explored. Unfortunately, that’s where the blunt hammer of director Oliver Stone comes in.

Rising through several government agencies, computer analyst Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) notices that the government is gathering information from its own citizens, with access to personal communication, webcams, and more. Torn about what to do, and with his relationship strained, Snowden makes a decision that could land him in jail for treason.

It will probably annoy some viewers, but Gordon-Levitt’s voice work is actually remarkably close to how the actual Snowden sounds. It’s a good performance, in a film of pretty solid performances all around. Shailene Woodley’s character being a strong personality is more of a testament to her capabilities than the way she is written, which can often seem to flip flop from scene to scene.

The most interesting stuff in the film is seeing Snowden slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together and feel drawn to let the public know what was actually going on. There’s a certain psychology behind the decision making and an awakening of a conscience that is touched on, though perhaps not explored enough. The parts of the film that are straight out of “Citizenfour” really seem to drag, however, as it is a re-enactment of something that is not only so recent, but not really adjusted for any type of dramatic effect.

As one might expect, a movie about Edward Snowden directed by Oliver Stone is not exactly an unbiased affair. Stone is very clear in his position about how he sees Snowden. While it is never quite preachy, one of the most fascinating parts about the story of Snowden is that there’s a real, honest debate and divide around the country about the appropriateness of his actions. Presenting the information and letting the public decide for themselves was the crux for the decision that Snowden made. Without that debate, the movie feels extremely one-sided and doesn’t allow audiences to make their own decision.

“Snowden” isn’t necessarily a bad film, but it is one that is riddled with problems. It is painfully boring in parts, and it is anything but neutral. The fact of the matter is, “Citizenfour” is such a compelling film, and a better representation of this story, that the dramatization falls way short of the goals. The decision to show Snowden’s actions through the lens of his personal relationships really hurts a film that could have been an exploration into why the biggest whistleblower in history did so. It’s a shame that the character of Snowden isn’t more interesting.

Citizenfour

December 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill
Directed by: Laura Poitras (“P.O.V.”)

While she was in production of a documentary about post 9/11 national security, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras (1988’s “P.O.V.”) began to receive encrypted emails from a figure identifying themselves as “Citizen Four,” who was ready and willing to blow the whistle on the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies around the globe. Eventually, her and two other journalists are summoned to Hong Kong where NSA contractor Edward Snowden prepares to divulge thousands of government secrets, all to be leaked to the press and captured on film in the intriguing documentary “Citizenfour.”

After a very specific set of instructions, the first time we meet Snowden is in a hotel room, ready to reveal anything the trio of handpicked reporters he has selected want to know. From there, the film is a documentation of Snowden in the act of blowing the whistle on the NSA and leaking thousands of documents. Most of the focus lies upon the NSA’s access to actual conversation content without needing probably cause or a warrant. It is mesmerizing footage, as it is essentially a first-hand account of a major event in American intelligence history. What makes it even more stunning is the fact that it is being presented privately before being published, so it is not only without the uproar and fallout, but we see the journalists plan every step of how the leak will be presented and how it changes based on international reaction. These scenes also allow Snowden to clearly present his motives and explanations for his actions in the most direct way possible.

As a subject, Snowden is intelligent, calm, and very calculated all with a slight dash of paranoia. He is acutely aware of the consequences of his actions, yet he shows no signs of nervousness or any tinge of regret. He doesn’t want to hide his identity, but rather come forward when the time is right. It is captivating to see the wheels turning as Snowden navigates his way through the best possible way for the story to get out there or even as Snowden unplugs phones and uses devices to hide passwords in case someone is watching or listening. As a person and as a film, Snowden and “Citizenfour” will likely draw comparisons to Julian Assange and the documentary “We Steal Secrets.” Snowden, however, is an infinitely more interesting subject. Whereas Assange was egotistical and was not the main person at risk, not actually leaking documents himself but rather solely providing hosting, Snowden is directly at risk and repeatedly pushes his ego aside, deflecting his personal story in order to keep the focus on the intelligence leak itself. This could very well be presentation and editing, as the film is very clearly in favor of Snowden’s actions and seeing him as a positive figure, but it is an interesting element nonetheless.

There is a certain surreal quality to “Citizenfour,” as the audience is watching what has been called “the biggest intelligence leak in NSA history” happening privately before their very eyes. This quality is perhaps hammered home hardest in the moments that Snowden is casually watching American TV coverage of the leak and the international debate it has immediately sparked from his hotel room in Hong Kong. Some of the footage can get a little mundane and the film takes a noticeable dip any time Snowden isn’t on screen, but “Citizenfour” is a riveting and fascinating collection of footage that feels important and essential, regardless of where you lie on the issue. It will undoubtedly add another complex layer to an already hot-button debate.