Cinematic Releases: Snowden (2016) - Reviewed

Edward Snowden. Hero? Traitor? Patriot? Whistleblower? These are all questions that you'll be forced to answer when watching Oliver Stone's new feature film that finally presents the true life story of Snowden in vivid and realistic detail. 

Breaking from the stylish renderings that have defined his career, Stone tightens up his usual leanings and presents a story rooted more in fact than slanted fiction. Abandoning almost all the visual flair and hyper editing of his previous features, Snowden remains beautiful to look at while giving its viewers a tale of modern technology that allows us to see inside Snowden's dedicated but obsessive personality, his unrelenting genius, and the days that lead up to his exile. After the critical failure of Savages, Mr. Stone is back in rare form giving us a history lesson that takes aim at national intelligence, personal data security, and our country's obsession with constant observance. Despite some slow spots, Snowden delivers a much better story than previous whistleblower films like The Fifth Estate. 

Per his usual, Joseph Gordon Levitt is pitch perfect as Edward Snowden. Taking on his vocal traits and all around physical demeanor, Levitt will most likely garner an Oscar nod for his performance here. He embodies Snowden's mild mannered persona, slipping perfectly into another man's shoes. Shailene Woodley escapes the dregs of the terrible Divergent films but doesn't quite fit when played against the talents of Levitt. At times her dialogue feels stilted and underdeveloped while she struggles to maintain a more serious role. That's sad because she's done some worthwhile dramatic work in the past. With Snowden something never seems fully realized with her character. 

Where Snowden really succeeds is in the choice of support players. Nicolas Cage takes a backseat with a small role that's probably his best in years. Tom Wilkinson shows up for a while. Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo fill out some of the journalist roles. And Rhys Ifans plays a dubious part as Corbin O'Brian. Other support parts are filled out by Scott Eastwood and Joely Richardson. Each and every one of them fit perfectly into the puzzle that Oliver Stone puts together with this film. 

Ugh. I am SO over teenage dystopia. What do you think?
Wanna hack some computers and eat some brownies?

What makes Snowden such an enjoyable feature is that viewers are handed a technologically intelligent film that shows us what our government is capable of while also giving us the chance to make our own decisions about their actions. Nothing is forced down our throats. Stone finally learns to take a backseat to his own opinions. In the context of Snowden, it was perfect timing.  The presentation of the people that design security software and systems is finally smart. This isn't some watered down version of basement dwelling, coffee sipping, cave trolls that hang out talking about ports and servers. Snowden is a highly skilled piece of cinema that barely dramatizes the actual story. 

Unlike Stone's JFK or Born on the Fourth of July, this film is about freedom. The freedom to choose and come up with our own decisions about Edward Snowden. At a time when we're all ready to tear each other apart over our electoral choices, Snowden comes along and reminds us what our freedoms are all about.  Do we want to be monitored? Do we want our government having control over our choices? What if that tech is used to protect us? And what if it's used against us? Is Snowden a hero or a villain? You can finally decide with one of the best movies of 2016.

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