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Snowden (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 134 minutes.

OK for children.

Writer (with Kieran Fitzgerald)-director Oliver Stone is not only a talented moviemaker, he is a propagandist. If youíre looking for the truth, you cannot rely on everything Stone presents and you have to question issues that are raised. Which are:

  1. Was Snowden a patriot who only purloined and revealed documents about the CIA secretly spying on U.S. citizens, or
  2. Was he a traitor who revealed documents that put clandestine agents at risk of their lives?

Thatís the main question that is raised by this well-made film (from books by Anatoly Kucherena and Luke Harding) that seeks to canonize CIA leaker Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) without proof of any miracles.

This shows Snowden as a patriotic conservative who is a genius computer expert working for the CIA and who becomes increasingly concerned about what he perceives to be lawless actions of the CIA in spying on, and framing, people.

Gordon-Levitt gives a remarkable performance as Snowden. Physically he is as close to being a double as could be possible.

Like most movies I see, I thought this one was far too long and was slow in spots, especially the scenes in the hotel with the journalists to whom Snowden is giving his story, Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto, who looks a little jarring without Mr. Spockís pointed ears), Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson).

A ďBĒ story is the relationship between Snowden and his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley, in a very good performance), and how it is affected by Snowdenís job and self-created problems.

Probably the best part of production is the music (Chris Armstrong and Lee Percy) that creates a feeling of tension and suspense that really would not be present in the film without it. But the ambience created by the music makes the film far more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. Letís face it; this is about a top security employee who steals files and then publishes them.

Unfortunately, Stone doesnít even go into anything about the U.S. trying to get him back in the country or give much detail at all about how he got out of the country in the first place, which would have been good grist for an action film. So all the cinematic things that might have been, arenít. Itís just about him telling his stories and a bunch of flashbacks. Even so, itís interesting and enlightening, because it gives the other side of the picture that the U.S. media ignored.

However, I donít know much about Snowden. Stone paints him as a prodigy that everyone with whom he came in contact at the CIA admired, as a conservative, and as a man inspired only by good intentions. How much of this is true? I donít have a clue and what he did and what he revealed is wrapped in secrecy.

For example, many U.S. politicians allege that Snowden's release of these materials cost some clandestine agents their lives. Is this true? Where are the facts?

There is one definitely fictional character, Corbin OíBrian (Rhys Ifans), who plays Snowdenís mentor at the CIA. He utters the most memorable line in the movie, ďSometimes weíre restrained from telling the truth but thatís not permission to lie,Ē the line that is meant to sum up everything Snowden hates about whatís going on. The fact that Stone inserted a fictional character to play such a pivotal role does little to create verisimilitude.

Is Snowden an evil traitor? Or did he act out of a sense of patriotism because of what he felt was betrayal by the U. S. government?

If the former, whatís the stimulus for it? It wasnít money. And it wasnít ideology. It strains credulity that a person would destroy his life for nothing.

If you go into this with a closed mind, you probably wonít enjoy it much. But if your mind is open and you havenít already prejudged Snowden, itís a very good film (that could have been better with less; less time, less romance, less of the scenes in Snowdenís hotel room, but with the skullduggery of Snowden fleeing and avoiding his pursuers added). Whom do you trust, Oliver Stone and Snowden, or a bunch of U. S. politicians? I donít knowÖbut I know which way Iím leaning.