As timely as it could ever be, Oliver Stone’s Snowden paints a compelling picture of Edward Snowden’s journey from military patriot to NSA whistle-blower, and does a brilliant job of showing the unnerving scope of the USA’s mass surveillance technology. As is always an issue in “dramatisations” of real events, it is sometimes unclear where true representation gives way to artistic license, but the director certainly manages to make a story centred around computers a tense watch. Joseph Gordon Levitt takes on the role of Snowden, and he does so impressively; he has mastered the voice and plays the man often described as “robotic” with more nuance than one might expect. Indeed, under Stone’s direction Snowden is humanised to good effect, partly due to his relationship with girlfriend Lindsey Mills (Shailene Woodley) being given ample screen time, and this will no doubt see more people sympathising with one of America’s most pilloried exiles.
Stone and Gordon Levitt’s bias in Snowden’s favour is not at all hidden in the feature, but this does not necessarily let it down; despite the film’s partiality, the USA’s “surveillance equals security” policy is not painted as either wholly good or bad, as the different NSA officials – the one played by Rhys Ifans in particular – voice the differing arguments in favour of the mass surveillance policy. Unfortunately, Snowden is at times portrayed as a Jason Bourne of the computer science world, finishing his tasks in a fraction of the time taken by his peers, whilst slightly ridiculous techno music plays in the background, and it is strangely distracting in its reduced simplicity. Surely someone so genuinely interesting did not need to be so “Hollywoodified”? And yet, due to Gordon Levitt’s performance, these moments manage to remain grounded enough not to undermine the story being told.
What Snowden really succeeds in, though, is in its depiction of the insidious infiltration of the public’s private life, and this makes it an important film. One scene in particular where Snowden looks over in panic at the webcam on his laptop during an intimate moment with Lindsey, in full knowledge that someone could be watching, will likely stay with viewers. And who knows, it may well get a fair few joining him in covering up their webcams with a plaster.
Snowden is released nationwide on 9th December 2016. Watch our interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt here.
Watch the trailer for Snowden here: