SNOWDEN (2016)


Directed by Oliver Stone

Written by Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay), Oliver Stone (screenplay)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans

This should have been one of those films that need to be seen. I can’t say I am a huge fan of Stone, but I was hoping it could maybe come close to being this year’s Spotlight. How Oliver Stone manages to create such a formulaic, flat, shallow character study about one of the most important and polarising political figures in recent history is quite the achievement.

Kudos Oliver, you deserve one of those joke prizes that Showgirl won a bunch of. Being very familiar with the entire case, I honestly did not think that this story could have bored me. But it did, and I didn’t mind taking a piss near the end as there was nothing to engage me. This really did feel like a proper waste of time.


Where to start? The choppy back and forth scenes are disorientating and often confusing. The film jumps from Snowden’s urgent meeting with film-maker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald to get the story out in 2013, to various points during his rise up the ranks within the intelligence community from 2004 onwards. There were moments where, as Levitt narrates, I had no idea where we were within this 2004-2013 timeline. It is a very clumsy way to tell the story.

Soon into the film a romantic interest is brought into the picture. Surprise!! Bet you didn’t see that coming. When we first meet her, the two exchange interesting conversations, as Snowden funnily enough considers himself a conservative, while Lindsay (an under-used Shailene Woodley) is very liberal in her views.

This could have been such an opportunity for juicy dialogue, for some fiery but tempered debates about politics by two people with vastly opposing views, but who are also falling for each other. A statement that politics doesn’t mean anything when it comes to a relationship. But of course Snowden can’t talk specifically about his work with her, so it doesn’t take long for her role to diminish – she starts as an interesting, camera-wielding liberal – but it doesn’t take long for her to take the insanely clichéd position of ‘wife who is sick with her husband’s work hours’.

Wow! Unique, huh?

Oh, and we can’t forget NICOLAS FREAKING CAGE sitting in as a once young bright upstart in the CIA whose ideas were shut down by those in charge. Credit to Cage, he actually manages to not scream for the entire movie. The limited screen time helped in this regard – and it also helped in that we didn’t have to witness Cage’s awful performance long enough to cause permanent brain damage.

As I walked out, an elderly couple commented that I looked like Snowden (I wear glasses), which got us talking for a bit. They seemed to enjoy the movie but commented that most of it went over their heads. All I had to say was that I learned one thing – I didn’t know Snowden had epilepsy, strange considering I hold the man in a very high regard and am epileptic myself. But this is a perfect example of why the movie fails; it relentlessly batters us over the head with its political view-point and the details of what Snowden released, going over the heads of casual observers while offering nothing to those familiar with the story.

Citizenfour gave us this information – in a much more engaging fashion it must be said – and Snowden had the opportunity to be the perfect film to compliment it, to show us the man behind the story. Who is Edward Snowden? Though perfectly played by Levitt, doing his best with a script worthy of bog-roll, we don’t get to know the man at all. He likes computers and Rubik’s cubes, and he objects to the increased surveillance that he witnesses within the CIA and NSA. That’s all we know.


Thing is, we already knew that!! Good God, a Google search will yield more information about the man. As I mentioned, he is a polarising figure, and this film will do precisely nothing totwo beer change that, as it adds absolutely nothing to the conversation. Personally, I think what he did was incredible, and it has had knock-on effects, even down here in Australia. Snowden created a conversation that needed to happen, and he gained nothing from it. His future is uncertain. That Oliver Stone is able to create such a bland, clichéd, boring piece of trash about such an amazing man is almost an insult. It sure felt like one.

Two beers out of a sixer