FilmReview

Review: ‘Snowden’ Is Biased, Yet Brilliant

Jacqueline Gualtieri ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

It’s safe to say that Snowden is not a documentary. It might not even be historical fiction. It’s a bit closer to the category of action movie, with Edward Snowden in a role similar to Jason Bourne. But if you can put that aside, you’re in for 2 hours and 14 minutes of a brilliantly acted and beautifully written movie.

Snowden follows the career and personal life of NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). For the most part, it’s hard not to know at least pieces of his story. He worked in the intelligence community. He leaked the story as billions of our private conversations and pieces of private information were being collected by the NSA. No doubt you have some sort of opinion on who he is.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rachel Handshaw in Snowden. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.

So does director Oliver Stone and he makes it pretty clear. Stone paints a picture of Snowden as a national hero and somewhat of a martyr. Snowden had a beautiful girlfriend (Shailene Woodley) and he was making tons of money from the government. But the computer professional saw something that was very wrong going on in the government of the country he loves. He had no choice but to leak the information to do what’s right.

If you disagree with that telling of the story, you may want to steer clear of Snowden. But if you do agree, or at least haven’t fully made up your mind yet, Snowden may just be your favorite film of the season.

Although Shailene Woodley does play a rather large role as Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s longtime and very liberal girlfriend, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the only real main character of the film. Gordon-Levitt stars as Snowden, although that’s remarkably easy to forget. Towards the end of the film, the real Edward Snowden makes an appearance on screen and it takes a moment to realize that it’s no longer Gordon-Levitt. He has his voice down, his mannerisms, every minute detail. He’s more than just Gordon-Levitt wearing glasses; he becomes Edward Snowden.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley in Snowden. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.

Despite being in a slightly less acknowledged role, Woodley’s portrayal of Lindsay Mills gives the film the heart it needed. The film could have just been about Snowden’s career. There’s plenty of material there. The decision to have more of a focus on his life outside the intelligence community was the difference between making a movie about the NSA and a movie about a man. Woodley demonstrates the heart of Ed Snowden and the life that he could have had if he didn’t stick to his guns. When we first meet Snowden, he is dead set on defending his government. He believes that defending his government is the same as loving his country. Mills is the reason he starts to change and his belief in the government, but not his country, changes. Woodley portrays Mills with a lot of heart, brains, and conviction.

A big part of the film, and why it’s easy to see which side Stone is on, is the use of the score and symbolism. Snowden’s shadow growing, his and his girlfriend’s shadows holding on to each other across the wall, demonstrates what he’s losing and what he’s becoming. It’s beautiful, perhaps a little heavy-handed symbolism. The score is much the same, with rousing, somewhat patriotic music underscoring his decisions to leak the information. Strangely enough, despite the many that say that Snowden is a traitor, it’s hard not to leave the theater feeling more patriotic.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Snowden. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.

If you want to know about Edward Snowden, without any bias, your best bet would be to go find the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour. Snowden is heavily biased, but if you are willing to look past it, you’re in for a film worth watching, about Edward Snowden, the human being who made a very difficult decision. With strong writing and two actors who clearly researched their roles at the helm of the movie, Snowden deserves to be given a shot.

Overall Grade: B

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