First Hit: Oliver Stone is on his game – excellent film about a man who wanted to let us know that the US Government has been spying on us without our permission.
I won’t often get political in film reviews, however, nearly two years ago I saw a film called “Citizenfour” which was a Laura Poitras documentary film about Edward Snowden. I indicated then that I thought everyone needs to see how the US Government could use their existing technology to spy on anyone they wanted to.
This new Stone film uses the filming of the Poitras’ documentary as it’s center point plot device to fill in the picture in a fuller way. Stone tells the story leading up to Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) making the choice to copy data files from the NSA’s database and share them with the media (Briton’s "The Guardian" newspaper was the first) from his hotel room in Hong Kong. This hotel room is where most of Citizenfour was shot and those events were effectively reproduced here by Stone.
Playing Poitras in Oliver's film was Melissa Leo, “The Guardian” correspondent, Ewen MacAskill, is played by Tom Wilkinson and Zachary Quinto played Snowden’s lawyer Glenn Greenwald. These were the people Snowden entrusted with the absconded data.
The film traces Edward’s path from a young man trying to get into the “Special Forces" because he wanted to do something for his country after 9/11. However, because of his weak and broken leg bones, he receives an Administrative Discharge from the Army. He then interviews with and joins the CIA. After joining the agency, he begins to date Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) who teaches a creative dance, is a photographer and is very liberal.
This relationship is important to Snowden and it is a key to his seeing the everything more openly. The film has to tell a convincing story and, in my book, effectively does so. It provides enough information about how the data collection systems work. It gives you Snowden slowly realizing that what he’s doing, in his mind, is wrong. It gives you the struggle Edward and Lindsay have about his secret work, and how their love helped him make his decisions.
The sets of where Snowden worked were wonderfully constructed and gave the sense of the power behind computer data gathering. And although this film is 134 minutes long, I cannot think of where one scene could be cut to reduce the running time. Yes, this film is weighted towards Snowden’s view of the world and the rightness of the data he collected and distributed. And in my view it needs to push this view because the US Government is one hell of a spying machine and you do not know if you’ve been in their sites.
Gordon-Levitt was a perfect Snowden. And during the end and in the credits, where the real Snowden appears on the screen, you can see why Gordon-Levitt was selected. He not only looks like him, but he got Snowden’s speech pattern down as well. Leo, Wilkinson and Quinto were wonderful as the team supporting Snowden in the Hong Kong hotel room. Woodley was sublime. It was her that created the chemistry that made the relationship and much of the film work. I also appreciated Nicholas Cage as Hank Forrester an older, one-time coder, instructor to Snowden and one who fell out of grace with the CIA and was left to manage their cyber museum. Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone wrote an effective screenplay which wonderfully bounced from period to period without losing momentum. Stone did a fantastic job of bring this story to life in a way that made it interesting. Scenes were set up beautifully. I suggest that everyone see this film and Poitras’ film "Citizenfour".
Overall: This was a fully engaging film about someone who has bucked our government and made them think (and blink).