Posted Oct 18 2016
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LFF 2016 - Snowden

Dir: Oliver Stone

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage, Mellissa Leo, Zachery Quinto, Timothy Olyphant, Joely Richardson, Ben Chaplin, Edward Snowden (yes, that one)

So, Edward Snowden – hero? Or traitor? The world court may well be still actively divided, but Oliver Stone is clearly in the camp of the former. What’s interesting about his return to overtly political cinema is that this is not a polemical film. It is oddly enough one of the filmmaker’s most retrained movies, almost dispassionate in a way that JFK certainly wasn’t (although that is a film the director himself cites as a companion piece to this whistleblowing saga.)

What Stone is concerned with here is detail more than passion. Snowden is clearly not a hot head, but a reasoned man, even a dull man, The Little Drone That Could, as it were.

It’s certainly a compulsive watch, told in a very straightforward, biopic manner. We begin with Snowden, locked in a hotel room in Hong Kong with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald (excellent work from Leo and Quinto respectively), about to make his confession to the world. As he explains the nature of his own government’s execution of a new level of mass surveillance – and its impingement of the human rights of, well, just about everyone – we move back over the last several years. Here we track Edward’s coming of age in the intelligence community – from the CIA to the NSA and back again – as well as his pivotal relationship with something that wasn’t a screen or a code, Woodley’s Lindsay Mills (some of her best work to date.)

As the film progresses, and, despite its subjective nature (Gordon-Levitt is barely off-screen), Stone seems to seep further and further into the background. You can only presume he feels the argument is stronger than the potential presentation, and by making a case for reason, he doesn’t feel the need to implore his audience, something he has done on numerous occasions before, from the aforementioned JFK, to the likes of Born on the Fourth of July, Salvador and, of course Platoon.

If we’re honest, we’d have been quite happy to have been hit over the head with a bit more passion than Stone displays here. But he clearly wants to take his lead from the cool, calm, collected and suitably distant Snowden himself, who takes over playing himself from Gordon-Levitt in the film’s final few minutes.

Whether you think this is a commendable film will depend on your POV on Snowden and his actions back out here in the real world. But it’s certainly a powerful attempt at making a convincing – if slightly dispassionate - case for the accused.

And it features a beautifully full and nuanced performance from Gordon-Levitt and a stand out turn from an almost unrecognisable Rhys Ifans, who provides the movie its one overwhelming “Big Brother” moment.

 

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