Snowden is about a massive data leak. It’s your job is to keep data secure, making you the obvious person to address for a perfectly obvious movie.
It’s this easy access to information about Edward Snowden that makes Oliver Stone’s film such a thankless dramatic effort. Even a casual news observer knows Snowden leaked an unprecedented amount of classified government information to expose the levels of surveillance being wrought upon not just U.S. citizens, but the entire world. Opinions about whether he’s a hero or a traitor are pretty much solidified from there. It’s just the way people process social politics – minds are made up with base level facts.
I was almost guilty of this myself. Not about pre-judging Snowden himself, but the film. Stone’s track record has been abysmal for decades, but as an eternal film optimist, I held out hope. After all, Laura Poitrais’s Oscar-winning documentary on the subject, Citizenfour, was a true artistic and journalistic achievement. So much so that she’s a character in the film, not unlike the way documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are represented in terrible dramatizations of the West Memphis Three trail. But the step back that the film takes to give us more details about Snowden’s personal life and what he left behind (high-paying job, hot girlfriend, Hawaiian climate), doesn’t raise the stakes – it just adds more detail. And as Snowden himself knew, it’s not the quantity of the data that matters, but the quality. And in the case of the National Security Agency, they collect a shocking abundance of both.
The real issue with this film is a question of tone. While I would at least give Bill Condon an E for effort for trying to zazz up a very similar story in The Fifth Estate about Julian Assange, Snowden is such a straight-up-the-middle account that it fails to inspire any new feelings at all. It’s not dark enough to be a mood piece, it’s not tight enough to be a thriller, and it’s not romantic enough to lean on the love story. The only real stand-out is the physical likeness that Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to bring, which isn’t much of a recommendation. I’d prefer the head scratching casting of Steve Jobs if we at least got a similarly artistic treatment of the narrative.
Instead, the film simply exists, like metadata that isn’t properly analyzed. And this is not bias confirmation. I was in this situation before – just last week – entering a film where I thought nothing new could be gained by getting a big screen version of a familiar story. But where Sully sticks the landing, Snowden simply malfunctions.
Control, Alt, Delete.