Oliver Stone may go down as the greatest historical documenter in cinema history. Most noted for his trilogies about the Vietnam War (Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, Heaven and Earth) and American Presidencies (JFK, Nixon, W.) respectively, Stone once again sets his sights on political controversy with his depiction of Edward Snowden’s incredible journey from soldier to whistleblower. A vital telling of a story that should be more widely recognised and understood, for the issues it tackles impact the very way we live our lives. Before viewing, one can predict Stone’s bias. A vocal defender of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, going so far as to visit him in the Ecuadorian embassy. Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly gripping film which flourishes with a fantastic performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role.
Snowden begins where it ends, with a meeting between a couple of highly regarded journalists and a very nervous looking Edward Snowden, in a small hotel room in Hong Kong. There the optimal method to making the public aware of the NSA’s actions is debated, until a filmed interview is seen as the most desired option, alongside multiple online and printed articles. From here the story splits into three very different but equally engaging arcs.
The first of these details Snowden’s discovery and later use of multiple highly invasive government programs. This causes him to take increasingly drastic steps to protect his privacy such as taping his webcam in order to stop anyone unwanted from viewing. The second story arc centres around his turbulent relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) which increasingly suffers the deeper the involvement with the NSA becomes. Lastly, the aftermath of the documents being passed onto the journalists, the effect it has on Snowden personally and the world as a whole.
Despite the deeply complex issues being dealt with, Stone assumes absolutely no knowledge allowing the most unenlightened to follow. Even people familiar with Snowden’s story will be horrified at the sheer extend the US government could access your data as demonstrated in this movie. Your text messages and emails, your family photos on your personal hard-drive, even your turned off laptop’s webcam. Nothing is safe from the prying eyes of those with seemingly limitless power. The age old argument of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ is often raised by those unopposed to government surveillance, with Snowden himself arguing that it ‘is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say’.
Coming two years after the release of the exemplary documentary Citizenfour, this movie could never match the immense tension or edge of seat drama of its predecessor. It does however, provide an unfaltering glimpse into the personal sacrifices made for the perceived greater good. With a spattering of recognisable faces in minor roles such as Scott Eastwood and Nicholas Cage, Snowden demands to be seem, if only to form an opinion of one of the most influential men of the 21st century, for better or worse.