Monday, November 28, 2016

"SNOWDEN" (2016) Review

"SNOWDEN" (2016) Review

When I heard that director Oliver Stone was about to release a movie about tech whistleblower, Edward Snowden, I did not know what to expect. I still harbored memories of "THE FIFTH ESTATE", the 2013 movie about Julian Assange. Unlike many others, I did not dislike the film. But I did not find it particularly impressive. But curiosity won in regard to this movie about Snowden and I decided to watch it. 

Structured as a flashback, "SNOWDEN" began three years earlier in Hong Kong, where Snowden had agreed to meet with The Guardian and Washington Post journalists and reveal the details leading to his decision to expose the National Security Agency (N.S.A.)'s illegal cyber-snooping on millions of unsuspecting American citizens. The flashbacks began with Snowden's departure from the U.S. Army due to a major injury and covered his years with the C.I.A. and as a contractee for Dell, which manages computer systems for multiple government agencies like the N.S.A. The movie also covered Snowden's profession and growing knowledge of the American government's illegal use of cybertech affected his tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills and his health for nearly a decade.

Personally, I thought "SNOWDEN" was a pretty damn good movie. It is not the first biopic or movie with a strong historic background that Oliver Stone had directed. And if I must be brutally honest, it is not his best. I cannot put my finger on why "SNOWDEN" failed to rank up there with the likes of "PLATOON""BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY" and especially "JFK". Was it the subject matter? One would think Edward Snowden's actions would generate plenty of controversy. An N.S.A. contractor exposing the U.S. government for illegally spying on the American public would seems controversial. Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald's screenplay even went into details behind Snowden's discoveries - details that left many Americans outraged when news of Snowden's leaks hit the newspapers and the Internet. The screenplay also detailed the emotional consequences that Snowden had suffered from his years with the C.I.A. and his employment as a N.S.A. contractor.

"SNOWDEN" also featured some pretty top notch performances from the cast. Performers like Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Nicholas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Eastwood, Keith Stanfield, Ben Schnetzer, Logan Marshall-Green and Joely Richardson gave solid, yet colorful performances. I was very impressed by Rhys Ifan, who have a subtle, yet slightly sinister performance as Snowden's C.I.A. mentor Corbin O'Brian. Shailene Woodley was excellent as Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who nearly became an emotional victim of his profession. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave an outstanding performance as the titled character, Edward Snowden. His performance was subtle, emotional and very skillful . . . worthy of an acting nomination.

So, why did "SNOWDEN" fail to impress me? The performances were top-notch. The topic of illegal government surveillance struck me as not only controversial, but also relevant. Or perhaps the topic had ceased to be relevant with American moviegoers. Society's taste in entertainment has grown disturbingly conservative over the past several years. It is possible that many moviegoers were more outraged over Snowden's actions, than the government's. Or perhaps Stone's timing for the movie's production and release was a year or two late. 

But if I must be honest, "SNOWDEN" seemed to lack something . . . perhaps some touch of magic or energy that made some of his past films memorable to this day. In fact, the movie reminded me of the 2010 Best Picture winner, "THE KING'S SPEECH". Many recall that movie was a box office and garnered a great deal of accolades. True. But aside from Colin Firth's Best Actor win, I never thought it deserved its accolades. Both movies struck me as entertaining, yet unoriginal biopics. I suspect that the 2010 movie benefited from the public's growing conservative taste in entertainment. And it did not help that "SNOWDEN" ended with an appearance from the actual man himself. I dislike it when a filmmaker does this. For me, it is like tacking on a "behind-the-scenes"featurette at the end of a film, giving the latter a weak ending.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed "SNOWDEN". I found its topic very interesting and relevant. I was also impressed by the cast, which was led by the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role. Oliver Stone did a solid job in covering the years that led to Edward Snowden's whistle blowing. And thanks to him, the movie featured some interesting moments from a cinematic point-of-view. But overall, "SNOWDEN" struck me as a not-so-dazzling effort from Stone. It struck me as a bit too typical for a historical drama and biopic.

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