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


21 Comments on “SNOWDEN (2016)

  1. Nice review Jordan. I caught about half of this last night (I had to run out of the screening after getting a phone call), but from what I saw, I enjoyed it a lot more than you. I felt Stone did an admirable job in explaining government surveillance in an accessible manner. But I had felt a lot of the supporting characters detracted from the picture and the Levitt didn’t quite have much chemistry with Woodley. And the less said about Cage the better. Still, I may go back into theaters just to see the rest of the movie, the positive aspects for me seemed to outweigh the negatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah he did well in explaining it, but the thing is, Citizenfour did that, much better IMO. And I always speak to others after I see films, and the general consensus among the people I spoke to was:

      most of that info went over their heads. There isn’t much left apart from the privacy commentary, just a bog standard biopic IMO. Just me though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey some disagree with me, so give it a shot if ya want! 🙂

      Especially if you like JGL, he is brilliant. He somehow manages to sound exactly like Snowden himself. The rest of the movie though is very tired and very clichéd unfortunately.

      If you haven’t seen it, watch Citizenfour. It is a brilliant documentary that tells this same story, but it actually has some urgency and tension.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good work Jordan; yeah we’re on the same page with this one. This was complete crap. It really is an insult to Snowden himself that this thing comes out as a nickel


    • Yeah, it is an insult. How the fuck can you make such a boring movie about Snowden?!?! It really does boggle the mind man.

      Still can’t get over the crowd applauding it when I saw it. I guess that shows the power of suggestion – it was a Aus premiere, so I bet it seemed better than it was to a lot of people. I sure as shit wasn’t clapping!!


  3. Too bad this isn’t better. Haven’t seen it yet as we’ve been busy with other films at TIFF. And how have I not heard that Nick Cage is in this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah Cage is in it and he is as terrible as you are thinking. Thank god he isn’t on-screen for long, or we’d all develop brain bubbles.

      I’ve been watching you guys cover TIFF, some good stuff 🙂 So jealous that you guys have such a prestigious event near you!


  4. Great post 🙂 Nevertheless, back and forth scenes are actually quite compelling in cinema. I do not know If they work in Snowden because I never saw the film though. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂


  5. The reason I haven’t seen this yet is because of Oliver Stone. I’d suggest you check out Citizenfour documentary instead by Laura Poitras, which I really liked. And it actually has Snowden himself talking in his hotel room and it was pretty fascinating.


    • Yeah that doco is superior in every way – tense, engaging… everything this movie isn’t.

      But of course it has given Stone a chance to have his ugly face shown before every movie, talking about how phones will be our downfall and crap, before saying to the audience turn your phones off, as if its some sort of joke.


      • Oh glad you have seen the documentary! Heh, that’s annoying to see directors introducing their films, I’m never a fan of that, I just wanna see the darn thing! I really don’t care for Stone at all, nor his films.


      • One chain of cinemas has him introducing EVERY film. Turn of your phones, they will be your undoing blah blah blah. I’ve only seen it twice and I already can’t stand it

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed reading your review but disagree totally with most of it. Let me see if I can soften your view. The CitizenFour documentary, as excellent as it was, left Snowden looking like a sterile computer nerd who was not sure why leaking so much data was a good idea. Oliver Snowden builds on the facts and humanises the process. He shows us Snowden as an ordinary but smart man who was put in extraordinary circumstances and saw extraordinary things. The melodrama of his romance illustrates the secondary impacts of the risks he took. Its one thing to recognise that Snowden is a hero, but to understand WHY he did what he did and the toll this took on his life amplifies the heroism and magnifies his contribution to the betterment of government in the demorcratic world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very fair points mate, I can’t disagree with any of them. I just found the movie to be a bit bland and clichéd, and while you are right about Citizenfour, that is what I liked about it. The uncertainty, the tension, the anxiety over what will happen to him next. I just didn’t feel any of that tension here. And after that doco, I don’t really feel that I learned anything more about the story or the person.

      But that’s just me! 😉 I’m glad you got a lot more out of this than I did!


  7. Well, I can’t say I was particularly excited for this and I’m not that surprised to hear your thoughts. Oliver Stone has been out of his groove for a number of years, I’m glad he hankered back to the political-thriller sub-genre at which he has been so good in the past, but the Snowden story just seemed such an unnecessary story to turn into a film, especially considering how well it was already told with Citizenfour. It’s a lot like last year’s The Walk from Robert Zemeckis (surprisingly also starring Levitt) which told a story that had already been told better with the documentary Man On Wire. And I’m not at all surprised that Stone had trouble fitting all that stuff into a 100-110 minute runtime. Still somewhat eager to see it, but won’t exactly be rushing to the theater.
    Great review as always, buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, its not… it just doesn’t add anything to the story if you have seen Citizenfour. Nothing. And if you are a casual observer, like the people I spoke to after the film, all the information stuffed into the film just goes over their heads.

      Liked by 1 person

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