Joseph Gordon-Levitt really is one talented dude…
“Snowden” is the “based on a true story” bio pic about the whistleblower Edward Snowden, the man who leaked classified info to let the world know the NSA was spying on them through their personal technology. Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character while an ensemble cast including Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson also star and Oliver Stone directs and co-writes.
There used to be a time where people would get excited for a new Oliver Stone movie and it would be a stirring, controversial piece of cinema. But over the last 10 years his films have included the underwhelming likes of “Savages,” Alexander,” and “W.” which left many people wonder if the director has a great film left in him. While “Snowden” is not a masterpiece by any means, it does have flashes and moments of genuine interest that show Stone hasn’t completely lost his touch.
Like most everything he is in, Gordon-Levitt carries this film. In the trailers his deep voice seemed like it may come off as distracting, however after the opening lines it becomes white noise. This isn’t an Oscar-worthy performance but Gordon-Levitt displays a range of emotions as a normal everyday guy who realizes what the government is doing is wrong, but is conflicted by his patriotic duty as to whether or not to expose them.
The rest of the cast is solid as well, with many of them, including Nicolas Cage and Timothy Olyphant, simply being extended cameos but fun ones nonetheless. Shailene Woodley matches JGL’s performance with her own conflicted turn as Snowden’s longtime girlfriend, a woman who isn’t as bothered by the NSA’s spying because she has “nothing to hide.” Her role is a bit compulsory as the at times naggy girlfriend, but Woodley makes it her own.
The film’s problem, however, is while you’re watching and especially by the end, you can’t help but think “what’s the point of all this?” The film is essentially broken up into three scenes that are rinsed and repeated for two hours: Snowden watches the NSA spy on Americans through their webcams and bomb villages, thinks “what the government is doing is wrong” and gets into a fight over something with his girlfriend, all to not do anything about any of it.
Only in the final 15 minutes does he finally realize the world needs to know that their privacy is being invaded and does he take action. It can be argued that this shows that Snowden was truly conflicted about whether to expose and be forced to leave the country he loves and that forced the delay, but in a two hour film in which we already know the outcome before the opening titles even role, it gets repetitive and drawn out.
The film will likely make you angry that the US government got (gets) away with invading the privacy of its citizens and Stone makes no effort to present an unbiased piece of filmmaking here. He clearly thinks what Snowden did was right and despite Gordon-Levitt repeatedly saying “I’ll let the people decide if I was right or wrong” the film paints Big Brother as evil and Snowden as a patriotic hero. Whether or not you agree with him exposing the NSA, the film does not make the implications of villainizing him, which is a little disappointing that it is played so safe.
Despite it being moved from a May release to the fall, “Snowden” is not Oscar material, nor is it one of 2016’s better films. But if the subject is of interest and you like to see solid performances from talented (and attractive) actors then “Snowden” may have enough meat for you, and shows that Oliver Stone still has the means to make one final great film. Just a shame it wasn’t this one.
Critics Rating: 6/10