While some may believe Oliver Stone‘s Edward Snowden biopic was made a decade too early (the events in the film occur between 2009 and 2013), there is something to be said for presenting the story to the public while it is still relevant and while things aren’t yet resolved. The details leading up to, and the events surrounding Edward Snowden’s exposure of the U.S Government’s secretive surveillance programs was something Oliver Stone was born to direct (and write), given his penchant for politically controversial topics (the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war, for example). The Oscar-winning writer-director of Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon, to name a few, took on the challenge of capturing the story and also the essence of the man who leaked extremely classified NSA documents to journalists from The Guardian in 2013.
Snowden stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, and a number of other accomplished actors as colleagues, friends, and contacts. Familiar faces such as Nicolas Cage, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, and Rhys Ifans are featured throughout the film in various roles. Unlike most other Oliver Stone films, Snowden will appeal to a much larger audience; it’s not as slow-moving or as long as some of his more famous films (which can range anywhere from 2 hrs to a whopping 3 hrs and 12 mins). The topics presented in the film may be complex, but they are explained clearly and certainly spark a sense of alarm and disbelief as the far-reach of the government is presented before your eyes. As one can expect from a movie like this, the world of coding and hacking is displayed in a stylish manner – all flashing lights and visual effects – which generally appeals to everyone aside from computer nerds who tend to know better.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt became Edward Snowden in this film. His mannerisms, his speech, even his look is completely captured almost to the point where it becomes creepy. It takes a moment to adjust to the new voice and to stop thinking of it just as an actor’s “really good impression”, but rather a performance – a full embodiment of the character Edward Snowden. It’s a complex thing to try to show the internal struggle of a man torn between being patriotic and doing (what he perceived as) the right thing for his fellow man. The other actors do a great job in their supporting roles, but the focus stays on the subject at hand – Snowden. Even though you know how it ends, the film remains captivating and does not drag on (which tends to happen when a movie pushes past a 2 hr runtime).
It can be argued that the film only shows one side of the story and doesn’t take into account the potentially dangerous implications of Snowden’s actions, but it’s the side that needed telling just the same. A striking number of people don’t know the story, or even that it happened in the first place (which is even more shocking); so aside from the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, this is the next best thing to get to know the man behind one of the biggest security breaches in United States intelligence.
Snowden was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September 2016 and its wide theatrical release was September 16, 2016. The official runtime is 134 minutes.
Watch the official trailer here: