Giving Up Paradise: Movie Review of ‘Snowden’

Open Road Films
Entertainment /07 Jan 2017

Giving Up Paradise: Movie Review of ‘Snowden’

Who would warrant less sympathy from an American audience than Edward Snowden? Enough time has passed since Edward Snowden stole government files for a film to give us the answer. Snowden tries not only to gain sympathy and understanding from the audience, but to explain the transformation of Edward Snowden from patriot to traitor. Oliver Stone directed this intellectual thriller, based on the true story of Snowden’s brief employment with the United States government and his decision to steal an incredible amount of data. The only friends Snowden has are forced to converse with him in hotel rooms or via the Internet, which drastically restricts his social life.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden, and he does little more than put on a pair of rimless glasses and create a monotone with his voice to achieve an uncanny resemblance. The real Snowden makes a cameo at the end of the film, giving us the opportunity to critique Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s performance.

The interesting parts of the movie do not necessarily come from the reasons why Snowden did what he did, but how he did it. While obviously fake, seeing the interiors of different governmental buildings enhances the prestige of Snowden. Only a skilled manipulator could accomplish such a brazen theft of classified documents.

The unfolding drama of Snowden holed up in his hotel room in Hong Kong, after stealing the data, is repeatedly interrupted to provide backstory. While helpful to the viewer, much of it is boring and takes away from the momentum of the theft itself. While many may find it difficult to view Snowden as a hero, the audience is at least provided with a suitable explanation for the man’s actions. Most of the story takes place indoors, whether we see conversations in hotel rooms or action inside top-secret buildings, so there is not much natural beauty to be seen.

In many ways, Snowden is the computer-tech equivalent to Stone’s Platoon (1986), which followed the conflicts of one man between the soldiers of his unit. Snowden’s unit is made up of the journalists who help him leak the data to the public. He may not be in as much danger as a solider in combat, but where Snowden ends up at the end of the film is not exactly paradise. And one questions remains: Will he ever set foot in the United States again? For now, his only way to do so will be by appearing in pixelated form on a computer monitor.

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