BIFF 2016: Snowden

Bergen International Film Festival 2016

I guess it was only a matter of when someone would make a dramatised feature film about Edward Snowden, and I guess it only makes sense that that someone would be Oliver Stone (JFKNixonWorld Trade Center). Snowden is a movie that should be essential and important, sadly it is neither.

The issue with Snowden is not that it blindly sides with Edward Snowden, but rather the way it goes about doing so. Stone’s directorial language is so heavy-handed and hyperbolic that it is impossible to sympathise or care about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Edward Snowden’s moral dilemmas, at work or at home. There are scenes in this film, taken straight from secondary sources like Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, that plays into every single cliché you can imagine; unnecessary dramatic pauses (“I thought Obama would change things” *stares longingly into the black night, as Laura Poitras’ character holds her breath, dramatic music building* “I was wrong”); incessant symbolism at every turn – Gordon-Levitt stares sadly at some American symbol/icon more times than I cared to count – and as he gets yelled at by a higher-up through video chat, this higher-up is ten times the size of him, not alluding to Nineteen Eighty-Four as much as repeatedly punching us in the face with it. There are no graceful subtleties anywhere, nor any nuances in characters or situations, every element exists solely to underline Stone’s political stance. And it is not that I agree or disagree with Stone’s stance only that it becomes vividly dull and overstated.

It also struggles with an identity crisis, as it doesn’t seem to know whether it is a biopic on Snowden, a political drama, or a love story. It switches between all these modus operandi, and Stone does not seem interested in allowing them to form a symbiosis, making them collide in every turn. The movie opens when Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald first meet Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, and as they work with the documents and Poitras’ documentary in the hotel room, we get glimpses into Snowden’s life. The problem here is that Stone uses 120 minutes to tell us a story that could’ve been told in 90, and that the back-and-fourths become repetitive and shallow pretty fast. It tries to tell a love story, but it is impossible to care about it when Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) is relegated to a prop for Snowden, and given no independent room to grow. It tries to showcase Snowden’s motivations, but all it can muster up is a paper-mâché of a character whose reasoning and ideals are never explored, simply explained.

The irony in this personal exposition of Edward Snowden is a line the true Snowden has repeated again and again; I am not the story here. I don’t want the story to become about me. With Snowden Oliver Stone has managed to take one of the biggest and most important political incidents in recent years and turned it into a mindless anti-American/government movie, lacking any of the eloquence or tact apparent in works like Citizenfour, Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide…¹, or Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files…² Please pick them up, because Snowden deserves a better story than this, especially in these crucial times of a potential (if highly unlikely) Presidental pardon. Please sign here (one could argue personal politics should be kept away from a movie review, but one can also shut up).

¹No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
²The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

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