Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer and Nicolas Cage
In UK Cinemas December 9th, 2016
Watch on iTunes

by Joanna Orland

Depending on political views, Edward Snowden is often reveled as a hero or a traitor. Through his real-life notoriety, Snowden provides an automatically worthy protagonist for Oliver Stone’s movie, making this an interesting watch no matter how well or poorly executed this film may be. While the content is of interest, sadly the movie is neither glossy nor intelligent enough to be either Hollywood fare or of intellectual substance. It is merely an entertaining re-telling of the events leading up to Snowden’s whistle-blowing, painting a picture of the protagonist as a highly intelligent man taking on the weight of the world and willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of exposing the NSA.

Framing the story with the making of Laura Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour and Snowden’s revelations to The Guardian newspaper detracts from Snowden as it reminds the audience that much better versions of this story have already been told. The other timeline of this story showing Snowden’s training within the CIA is almost laughable, particularly in the casting of Nicolas Cage as one of his mentors and the campy performance by Rhys Ifans as another. Ifans is playing it almost as a Bond villain, while Nicolas Cage’s personal reputation outweighs any acting that he may be doing in this film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also a strange casting choice. He’s downplaying the role of Snowden as an every man, yet is putting on a voice throughout that comes across as almost parody. If he had played it straight, he would have come across better. The romance between him and Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay is too whiny to garner audience empathy, with little chemistry shared between the actors. This is a dated relationship portrayal of the working-hard boyfriend and the nagging girlfriend.

The entire film comes across flatly like a made-for-television drama. Any weight that the true Snowden story has is buried beneath a dissonant combination of campy melodrama and flatness. Better ways of telling Snowden’s story already exist without the need for Snowden.


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