With a hint of surprise, Snowden is an astonishingly engrossing biopic about one of the most controversial and groundbreaking personalities of the last few years. Although having been hit-or-miss with his last few films, this time director Oliver Stone presents an exceptional movie – serious and engaging, showing mastered storytelling, excellent performances, and an impressive fluidity of narration.
A news story that was plastered onto international newspapers, that virtually no one is unaware of, and which is still a hot topic of conversation across the globe, is hard to forge into a gripping plot line without feeling overly fictional or resembling a news report. Stone employs the often-used medium of jumping back and forth in the timeline of events without seeming old hat, pivoting around the few days in 2013 when Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) luxury hotel room in Hong Kong became the origin of widespread panic in the US government. Starting from the media release of the data in the ex-NSA and CIA contractor’s possession, Snowden tells the story from the very beginning: from a young man’s patriotic wishes to serve his country to his growing realisations regarding the ruthless measures used by US intelligence. From Maryland to Geneva to Japan and to Hawaii, his journey of darkening anxiety and internal moral conflicts about his work are flawlessly depicted in one of the must-sees of this year.
Extremely dangerous to anyone with conspiracy theories, the film shows truths now known to the world while staying constantly alarming, as well as casting an unforgiving bitter shadow on US surveillance. Adding a daring (and surprising) reference to the candidates of this year’s American elections and their opinions on the matter in the final sequences – as well as an ably tailored amount of live news footage from the years of the scandal – Snowden doesn’t close the story in the past and is bound to re-open a still burning debate.
It’s hard to withhold the canny twist at the very closing of Stone’s film, an astute finishing that seamlessly blurs the lines between fiction and documentary. The feature has the right pace, the polished rhythm and clear cut arguments of a good news report, critical and intelligent, yet fluid and absorbing from start to finish. Stone also includes a few very welcome moments of audacious artistic sparks borrowed from the more experimental genres. An overall laudable work, this movie is an outstanding surprise of TIFF 2016.
In 2013, Snowden opened a Pandora’s box that completely overthrew public opinion and made the world’s ultimate superpower tremble: now, Stone’s Snowden does this story justice, rarely falling into the trap of easy heroising. An informative and lucid film, gripping one’s attention (and preoccupation) for the entire duration, and leaving a (needed) sinking gut feeling about today’s world.
Snowden does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Snowden here: