Oliver Stone is not shy to controversy. Just take a glimpse at his filmography. Whether it’s releasing a film during the final year of a sitting president (W.), tackling the Vietnam War (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven & Earth), or going after subjects before they reach the decade mark (World Trade Center), Stone is one of few directors willing to take on just about anything no matter its timing. His latest, Snowden, dramatizes an event that just happened three years ago.
But that’s one of the many issues surrounding Snowden. The information about its subject is still easily accessible, and is still being discussed to this day. In the past, Stone would bring information to the forefront that wasn’t as well known, and he had a style that would engage and, most likely, enrage moviegoers. Snowden doesn’t do that. It lays out all the information we already know, and then tries to upset the viewer and get them to go along with Stone’s perspective.
There are so many shots that preach about internet security, whether it’s scrolling past a sticker that reads “I Support Online Rights” or if one of the actors makes this big speech about it. It gets to a point where having the message repeatedly pounded into our skulls becomes tiresome. Is it an important topic? Of course. But Stone doesn’t think we understand just how important it is until we’ve lost track of how many times we’ve heard it.
Plus, Stone takes the safest approach to telling Snowden’s life story and then quickly goes through the actual event in which he leaked the information about the NSA. The real meat of the story, and the reason why people might want to see this, doesn’t come until the movie is almost over. In between is a sluggish biopic that is predictable at every turn.
The real Edward Snowden is a controversial figure. A lot of people applaud what he did, but there are also a lot that don’t. Stone gives Snowden a story that paints him completely as a hero. Some examples of how Stone wants us to see his perspective of Snowden include a larger-than-life silhouette that covers a building and a glamorous, richly filmed scene accompanied by Craig Armstrong’s cornball score as he leaves a hotel.
That’s his style of filmmaking, and it has kind of been that way for his whole career. In several instances, it works. In others, it doesn’t. Sadly, Snowden falls into the latter category.
For as heavy-handed as Stone makes Snowden, the film does have some performances worth mentioning. As the titular character, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is pretty close to representing the way Snowden talks and acts (at least in the interviews he’s given). There are even some angles in which it’s hard to tell if it’s Levitt or if it’s actually Snowden that’s in the scene.
Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s longtime girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is supposed to be a major part of this film, but she’s unfortunately not given a lot to do. It’s nice to see Woodley depart from the Divergent series and do something more adult, but this isn’t quite the role that’s going to get her much recognition outside of that series. Her chemistry with Levitt is non-existent, and that’s part of the reason why the movie drags. It spends a lot of time on their relationship, and it doesn’t make it intriguing.
Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, and Tom Wilkinson portray the documentary filmmakers responsible for Citizenfour. We are shown the making of the film, and the interviews that take place, but that’s the extent of what these three actors are given here. It’s kind of disappointing that Stone assembles a huge cast, and then outside of Levitt, doesn’t give them a whole lot to do. Even Nicolas Cage is given very little screen time, and he’s excellent each minute he’s in.
It’s a little frustrating that this film that’s supposed to be important and informative comes across as bland and ordinary. The true story deserves more than what is presented onscreen.