It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would make an Edward Snowden biopic. After all, how often do you get a true life paranoid cyber thriller pulled from the headlines that makes everyone question their cell phone addiction? It was also inevitable that Oliver Stone be the man to make the movie on the NSA whistleblower. He does like true life stories and might be the most paranoid man ever employed in Hollywood (a land with stiff competition). So Snowden pretty much had to happen. Here it is. Exactly the movie you’d expect, no more no less.
Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the man himself and aside from a distractingly deep affected voice (possibly even aided by a touch of digital manipulation), he’s quite good. We seem him climb through the CIA ranks with a jittery Nicolas Cage as his paranoid teacher and Rhys Ifans as his nefarious mentor. He gradually learns more about the NSA’s vast n’ invasive surveillance capabilities. As he becomes disillusioned by his job, he becomes equally in love with his liberal photographer girlfriend (Shailene Woodley in a thankless role as supportive love interest/plot device). Eventually that means he has to quit. Yadda yadda yadda, you know the rest.
The psychological thriller aspects of the story are handled well by Stone and his cast. The film is carefully controlled with little visual excess (a surprise from the mellowing director). It plays like clockwork and hits all the required narrative and thematic beats. The only problem is this story was told far better before in the documentary Citizenfour that was actually in the room for the whistle blowing. Stone seems to acknowledge that movie’s superiority with a wrap around narrative of Snowden telling his tale to that filmmaker. It doesn’t change the fact that the real thing was better than this fictional account, but at least this one exists for the documentary phobic and points others in the direction of the real thing.
Friday, September 9, 9:30pm, Roy Thompson Hall
Saturday, September 10, 12:00pm, Roy Thompson Hall