Snowden

Snowden

2016, R, 134 min. Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 16, 2016

Oliver Stone, our national cinematic conspiracy theorist and all-around anti-establishment auteur, digs deep into the latest and most illuminating political scandal of our times with this taut and entertainingly paranoia-inducing biopic-cum-technophobic history lesson about the NSA’s Public Enemy and Global Fugitive No. 1. Gordon-Levitt, who at first news seemed an odd choice to play Edward Snowden, the introverted, nerdy government contractor who pulled the curtain away from U.S. Government’s all-seeing, all-surveilling extra-legal wizardry back in 2013. It seems like ages, does it not, since the young CIA employee and Booz Allen Hamilton contractor’s alarming revelations of illicit homeland spycraft were revealed in concert by UK newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post (and soon after by Der Spiegel and The New York Times). Gordon-Levitt, however, nails the part completely, physically hunching down into himself and getting Snowden’s halting, thoughtful speech patterns just right, while Stone, working with screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald, creates a whirlwind ride nearly but not quite worthy of The Parallax View-era conspiracy thrillers.

But of course this is real life and not just ranty Alex Jones-ian Sturm und Drang. Because Snowden’s revelations and his subsequent flight from the clutches of American military justice in a secretive FISA court to Russia, of all places, has already been documented exhaustively, Stone structures his film via revealing flashbacks. It begins with a furtive, clandestine meeting between Snowden, filmmaker-activist Laura Poitras (who helmed 2014’s Oscar-winning Snowden documentary Citizenfour; here she’s played by the excellent Melissa Leo), journalist Glenn Greenwald (Quinto), and the Guardian’s Defence and Intelligence editor Ewen MacAskill (Wilkinson). The film then jumps back and forth through Snowden’s life, focusing on his initial induction into the CIA via mentor Corbin O’Brian (an ominously pitch perfect Ifans) and his budding disquiet as he discovers the sheer magnitude of his employer’s overreach over its own citizens. That, in turn, impacts his romance with his photographer girlfriend Lindsay (Woodley), which leads to his moral and ethical decision to surreptitiously – in a wonderfully choreographed, edge of your seat sequence – take the downloads and run.

If you’ve been following the Snowden story since it broke, then chances are you already know much of the narrative Stone spins. It’s in the way he and his rock-solid cast spin it, thrillingly, that makes Oliver Stone’s Snowden the top-notch nail-biter that it is. Love him or hate him, Stone or Snowden, both of these American icons make for dramatically breathtaking cinema.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Oliver Stone Films
Savages
Oliver Stone’s movie is volatile, nasty, hypnotic, gory, and nearly irrestible – at least when the young 'uns aren't onscreen.

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 6, 2012

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone delivers an enlivening and wickedly entertaining take on the occasional angels and plentiful demons that have run the country into financial ruin.

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 24, 2010

More by Marc Savlov
Possessor Uncut
Identity melts in this psychotropic assassination brainblender

Oct. 2, 2020

Shortcut
Mangled Italian creature feature should be even shorter

Sept. 25, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Snowden, Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle