Hot Take: So-so retelling elevated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s excellent performance in a movie that’s way too long.
Oliver Stone’s mission in Snowden was to scare the bejesus out of us when it comes to our privacy. Snowden was just an end to justify the means. So, you almost have to evaluate the movie separate from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Edward Snowden. And, in this case, we’ll talk about both separately.
Stone’s Snowden is one of his most conventional films to date. As titillating the subject of our privacy can be, Snowden is about as tame as anything Stone has ever done. Sure, he visually explains how our privacy may be compromised at any moment but chooses a very safe route in doing so. Where’s the Oliver Stone of the JFK days? A more sensationalized story might have been untrue to the subject matter but that’s never stopped him before and damn if it doesn’t make a better movie. Instead, Snowden is kind of a drag and lacks energy.
As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, that’s where the meat and potatoes of the film are. Gordon-Levitt transforms into the man who exposed the U.S. Government and delivers a very convincing performance right down to Snowden’s unique voice patterns. He’s the most compelling thing to watching in the film and it’s one of those career-defining roles that people will remember longer than they remember the actual film. It’s still probably not Oscar-worthy but that has more to do with the mediocrity of the film than Gordon-Levitt’s performance.
The rest of the supporting cast delivers workmanlike performances. The only other actor who stands out is Shailene Woodley who plays Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills. It’s a sharp turn away from her recent work in the severely lacking Divergent series and shows that the promise she showed in movies like The Fault In Our Stars wasn’t an aberration.
Unfortunately, Snowden isn’t lean enough to avoid mediocrity and Stone’s restraint in his storytelling makes the film feel more like a stylized documentary than a feature film. His pom pom waving for the federal whistleblower is blatantly obvious, too, which then makes you question the authenticity of this side of the story. It’s heavy handed and the piling on gets a little boring. There’s no real sizzle. The government is bad. Snowden is good. We’re all being watched. It’s about as deep as it gets.
Unlike other Stone films, Snowden isn’t likely to whip anyone into a frenzy. Maybe that’s the time we’re living in more than Oliver Stone’s style. We knew a lot of this going into the film which makes Snowden less relevatory and more regurgitation. It’s been 25 years since JFK. The world’s a very different place, Mr. Stone.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Gordon-Levitt and Woodley
The pair show great chemistry on screen and are a pleasure to watch whenever they are together. It takes some of the weight off of Gordon-Levitt from carrying the movie on his own, too.
- A Worthy Topic
Snowden might be unremarkable in its retelling but the topic is important and does raise a lot of questions about what is right and wrong when it comes to how far the government can legally dig into our private lives under the guise of keeping America safe.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Keeping the Film Safe
It’s rare to see an Oliver Stone film that takes almost no risks. Snowden is that film. It’s very matter-of-fact and tries to stay as close to the truth as possible. Instead of sensationalizing events, Stone piles on which just becomes boring to watch. It’s preaching to the choir or yelling at a wall. Either way, the rather repetitive message gets stale.