Review: Snowden Tries To Make The NSA Hack Into A Bourne Movie
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenwriter: Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay), Oliver Stone (screenplay), Anatoly Kucherena (book), and Luke Harding (book)
Principal Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage
Summary: The NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency’s employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.
The idea of surveillance and security in the digital age was not something the people of America thought about too much in the early 2000’s. The Patriot Act was signed into law and we thought it was going to help keep us safe and stop a lot of bad guys. It was reauthorized without so much of a backwards glance. That is until whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked huge sums of information about who the government was spying on and what kind of information they were collecting in the database. The debate of whether what Snowden did was right or wrong is still raging, but the best way to learn about it is a documentary called Citizenfour that was released in 2014. The documentary won an Oscar so many people were a little confused to see a feature length picture being made.
Snowden takes the real life account of the NSA hack by Snowden and over dramatizes it to a laughable degree.
There are lots of thing that can take me out of a movie. A bad actor, bad special effects, but this is one of the few times I can think of when the musical cues were the things that kept taking me out. There is a scene at the beginning of Snowden that is shot and scored like it’s a Bourne movie and I nearly started laughing. While Sully last week at least felt like it took place mostly in a real world there wasn’t a moment that I thought any of the events in Snowden felt real. If they didn’t say it was based on real events at the beginning and the audience knew nothing about the leak I would guess none of them would think this is a true story. The music kept making it feel like a crazy chase was about to happen and about halfway through the movie I wouldn’t have been surprised if they made one up.
There is also this subplot, for lack of a better word, that looks like something out of a indie romantic comedy. Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has what looks like a meet-cute with Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) that could have been a scene out of 500 Days of Summer if you squint. The film felt like it kept trying to be a more traditional blockbuster and every time it would switch it was like getting tonal whiplash. It made for a movie with some good parts that didn’t seem to fit together as anything really whole. It is like director Oliver Stone was trying to mesh a spy thriller with an indie romantic comedy without trying to find where they could reasonably connect.
Stone also doesn’t seem keen to keep it from getting extremely preachy toward the end. The movie starts with Gordon-Levitt giving a Skype interview and then dramatically switches to the real Snowden followed by a montage of people criticizing him and sounding evil or praising him and sounding amazing. This is a political movie so I expected that some politics would come through but by the end I couldn’t take this little montage seriously. Gordon-Levitt must have spent a lot of time studying Snowden to get his mannerisms but every time a recognizable actor or actress would show up it took me straight out of the movie.
Snowden is not a bad movie but it is a story best told by a documentary crew. Whether you agree with what Snowden did or not there is no denying that it is an interesting story worthy of being told. However, that story shouldn’t be framed as a bad Bourne rip off and expect to be taken seriously.