September seems to be the month of movies about real people (and I guess unwanted horror sequels). First Roberto Durán, then Chesley Sullenberger, and now Edward Snowden, and good Lord, I’m starting to get tired of them.
However, out of all three of these biopics, I would say that Snowden is the best.
Now I don’t really know how controversial Snowden is to the common public. I know some people think he’s a hero, and some people think he’s a traitor. I personally benefited from not really caring all that much and staying emotionally neutral about the man.
That being said, regardless of your opinion, keep in mind that this movie almost plays like an extremely flattering documentary of Edward Snowden. It’s less like Hands of Stone (where Durán is almost an anti-hero at certain points) and more like Sully (where Sullenberger is unquestionably a white-robed hero), except it goes much farther than Sully does, almost to the point where I was wondering if there was going to be a scene where Oliver Stone was going to get down on one knee and present a ring to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in glasses.
Kidding aside, one of the things I enjoyed most about this movie was Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance. There are quite a few moments during the movie where I had to do a double take because they managed to make him look exactly like Snowden. There seemed to be an extreme amount of care that Levitt put into his role.
Shailene Woodley also does well as Snowden’s girlfriend. The biggest moments of interest for me were the conflict scenes between the two because I felt that it told me the most about each character. Snowden’s job description certainly creates a lot of friction in his personal life.
Now Woodley’s character (real life name Lindsey Mills) is… quite the eccentric person. I wasn’t quite sure if the movie was over-exaggerating that trait, but a quick search on Google proved to dismantle my doubt.
Aside from Levitt and Woodley, there are quite a few big names in this movie, and they all do fairly well in their roles. Nicolas Cage was even pretty good, though he was not in the movie as much as I was hoping that he’d be.
The story itself relies rather heavily on exposition. Part of that, of course, was because the whole ordeal with Snowden is rather intricate, but I felt like a lot of it also had to do with Stone having a strong desire to explain why Edward Snowden is worthy of praise and admiration (like I said, this is mainly a puff-piece and a flattering documentary). That being said, holy crap, if this movie is factually true, American intelligence agencies do some horrifying things.
The cinematography for this film is all over the place. Oliver Stone seemed to have a hand in every sort of camera trick (except for the long-shots). This really isn’t a plus or minus, but there were times where I was wondering what was the point of all of these multiple styles of shooting. Were they all fitting for the tone, or were they just something that Stone did to be artistic?
Somewhere around the third quarter of the movie, I started making a habit of checking my watch. I can’t place my finger on exactly when this happened, but the film eventually runs out of steam and I was ready for it to be over.
I don’t really like it when critics throw out the ambiguous critique of “I was bored”, so I’ll try to give a reason for why I felt this way:
The biggest reason for why I eventually felt bored was most likely due to how single-noted this movie eventually felt. After a while, I got the point: Snowden good. NSA bad. Government bad. Truth important. I guess after a while, I felt like I got everything that this movie set out to do, and I realized there wasn’t much more that it had to offer.
Snowden is basically a big, fancy, decorated thank-you card in the Oliver Stone aisle of the Hallmark store. That being said, it’s certainly not a bad thank you card. The performances are all good, the information is fairly compelling, and I had a decent time with the film in general. That being said, I don’t really feel like I’ll have to see it again.