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Review: Snowden (TIFF 2016)

Snowden (TIFF 2016)
09.11.2016
6 10

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PLOT: The true story of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), from his recruitment into the CIA to his eventual leaking of top-secret NSA documents, to his eventual exile and status as one of the world’s most wanted men.

REVIEW: SNOWDEN is probably Oliver Stone's best movie in awhile, but on the whole still lacks the tension or outrage that defined his best work. Given his politics, an Edward Snowden film by Stone was always going to come-off as a celebration of the man, but all things considered it’s a surprisingly conventional biopic, lacking the sense of urgency you’d think would be a given due to what’s at stake.

snowden joseph gordon levitt

Rather, it’s a fairly standard techno-thriller that pales alongside Laura Poitras’s CITIZENFOUR. Simply put, the Poitras film is the real deal, and watching scenes from that doc re-enacted with Hollywood actors (including Melissa Leo as Poitras and Zachary Quinto as journalist Glenn Greenwald) you wonder why this movie even exists as it will never hit the nerve that did.

SNOWDEN’s biggest fault is the same one that affected Stone’s W, in that it's maybe too topical. The Snowden story is far from over and had they waited a few years to make a film about his life, maybe one that could better chart his post-CITIZENFOUR life as a man in exile, it might have fared better.

Even still, SNOWDEN is a worthy if flawed film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is clearly devoted to the part, changing his voice to perfectly mimic Snowden. One can’t help but feel like Stone betrayed his performance somewhat by having the real Snowden play himself in an epilogue, which totally breaks the spell of the film and only drives home the artificiality of what we had seen up to that point.

While you’d assume Stone would be focused on the politics or cloak and dagger aspects, you’d be wrong. In fact, much of the running time is devoted to Edward’s relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, played here by Shailene Woodley. This could have been interesting if we’d ever really gotten a chance to see what makes her tick, but it's a one-note romance. All of a sudden they’re in-love and living together, and you never get a sense of what life is really like with a guy who works in such a top-secret job is other than the fact that she has to move all the time.

snowden joseph gordon levitt

SNOWDEN fares better when it's centered on the government aspect, with Nicolas Cage having a juicy cameo as one of Edward’s early mentors, who, after being told computers are Snowden’s only vice, replies with the dead-on, “well, welcome to our little whorehouse.” By contrast, Rhys Ifans doesn’t fare as well as Snowden’s early champion, Corbin O’Brian, playing the part as broadly evil, with a late confrontation between the two being unintentionally humorous in its menace. The casting of Snowden’s fellow techs is also hit-and-miss, with Scott Eastwood seeming badly miscast as one, although Logan Marshall-Green and Ben Schnetzer come-off well, as does Timothy Olyphant as a field operative who gives Edward some harsh training.

In the end, SNOWDEN is neither the triumphant return-to-form Stone fans might have been hoping for, nor is it as real miss. It’s simply a middle-of-the-road movie, similar to Stone’s own WORLD TRADE CENTER, which tells the story in a straightforward way but lacks a certain...something. Unless you’re absolutely adverse to documentaries (but why would you be?), see CITIZENFOUR instead. This is an OK Edward Snowden film, but far from definitive.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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8:21PM on 09/13/2016

So I rewatched a bunch of Stone's older films in preparation for this...

Mainly because it's the first Stone film I've been even remotely excited for in who knows how long, and also because I used to love a bunch of his stone. I watched Natural Born Killers, Platoon, and Wall Street and sadly felt like not a one of them held up. Am I alone in this? The latter two are ridiculously heavy handed in their morality with very one note characters, and I felt the ending voice over narration in Platoon was almost laugh-out-loud bad, which really made me sad because it was
Mainly because it's the first Stone film I've been even remotely excited for in who knows how long, and also because I used to love a bunch of his stone. I watched Natural Born Killers, Platoon, and Wall Street and sadly felt like not a one of them held up. Am I alone in this? The latter two are ridiculously heavy handed in their morality with very one note characters, and I felt the ending voice over narration in Platoon was almost laugh-out-loud bad, which really made me sad because it was one of the films in high school that led me away from generic action movies and toward (what I felt at the time) was more serious, higher quality fare. Natural Born Killers just seemed like a bad ripoff of a Tarantino movie, with "quirky" but again ultimately flat characters. I'm really nervous to watch Born on the Fourth of July and The People Vs. Larry Flint... I'd at least rather not have my memories of those two crushed.
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6:38PM on 09/11/2016

Any given Stone film....

After the late 90's...... ASS.
By the ratings on this very site he peaked with JFK in 1991.... that was 25 years ago.
After the late 90's...... ASS.
By the ratings on this very site he peaked with JFK in 1991.... that was 25 years ago.
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8:41PM on 09/11/2016
"Natural Born Killers" Yay or nay?
"Natural Born Killers" Yay or nay?
10:58PM on 09/11/2016
NBK is one of my all-time favorite movies.
NBK is one of my all-time favorite movies.
6:50AM on 09/12/2016
NBK? In my opinion overrated, go back watch that cartoon and ask if it stands the test of time. Would have rather seen Tarantino low budget direct his original script in his prime.
NBK? In my opinion overrated, go back watch that cartoon and ask if it stands the test of time. Would have rather seen Tarantino low budget direct his original script in his prime.
6:50AM on 09/12/2016
Quotes from Tarantino on Stone's NBK--
“I wish he had just fucking ripped it off.”
“His (Stone) biggest problem is that his obviousness cancels out his energy and his energy pumps up his obviousness."
Quotes from Tarantino on Stone's NBK--
“I wish he had just fucking ripped it off.”
“His (Stone) biggest problem is that his obviousness cancels out his energy and his energy pumps up his obviousness."
5:32PM on 09/11/2016
My reply was supposed to be neutral. Oops! So this reply is to cancel it out
My reply was supposed to be neutral. Oops! So this reply is to cancel it out
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5:30PM on 09/11/2016
I'm getting kind of tired of people making biopics before the subject is dead. How can you make a movie with a story that isn't finished? I mean, biopics don't need to end with the person's death obviously, but what if the most important thru-line doesn't happen till they're 60? Or 80? It just doesn't make sense, besides as a way to exploit the topical nature of whatever made the person known.
I'm getting kind of tired of people making biopics before the subject is dead. How can you make a movie with a story that isn't finished? I mean, biopics don't need to end with the person's death obviously, but what if the most important thru-line doesn't happen till they're 60? Or 80? It just doesn't make sense, besides as a way to exploit the topical nature of whatever made the person known.
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5:47PM on 09/11/2016
til death might be a little harsh. We wouldn't have great movies like The Social Network or The Big Short if we did that. But I do get your point.
til death might be a little harsh. We wouldn't have great movies like The Social Network or The Big Short if we did that. But I do get your point.
8:11PM on 09/11/2016
I would defend it when Stone made W. as that film only really dealt with Bush through his first term and there had been another four years in between. However the criticism is likely a valid one here and I imagine with a lot of other films is is as well. Sully certainly feels like it's coming out surprisingly soon as did both Steve Jobs movies.
I would defend it when Stone made W. as that film only really dealt with Bush through his first term and there had been another four years in between. However the criticism is likely a valid one here and I imagine with a lot of other films is is as well. Sully certainly feels like it's coming out surprisingly soon as did both Steve Jobs movies.
9:00PM on 09/11/2016
How about just waiting until the subject of the biopic has either moved back to America or made Russia his permanent home before they make a movie about him? This guy still might end up back in America one day, and what would happen after that would be just as interesting as the events of him stealing the NSA documents.
How about just waiting until the subject of the biopic has either moved back to America or made Russia his permanent home before they make a movie about him? This guy still might end up back in America one day, and what would happen after that would be just as interesting as the events of him stealing the NSA documents.
+2
3:19PM on 09/11/2016

All you had to say was Oliver Stone....

Yeah, he used to be a great director, but he's batshit crazy and his whack-job politics make trying to watch anything he does painful (unless you're in line with his ideology). I can't remember the last time one of his films made me care or even think about what he was trying to say. It's like someone getting in your face and screaming platitudes and thinking that is the same as a dialog.
Yeah, he used to be a great director, but he's batshit crazy and his whack-job politics make trying to watch anything he does painful (unless you're in line with his ideology). I can't remember the last time one of his films made me care or even think about what he was trying to say. It's like someone getting in your face and screaming platitudes and thinking that is the same as a dialog.
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4:11PM on 09/11/2016
You really don't know what you're talking about.
You really don't know what you're talking about.
7:01PM on 09/11/2016
Natural Born Killers
Natural Born Killers
8:53PM on 09/11/2016
Yeah Jack, I really do.
Yeah Jack, I really do.
9:03PM on 09/11/2016
Psyonikx, NBK was entertaining, but it was so over the top it was like Tarantino on an acid trip. I could see how people would enjoy it, but to me it was mediocre. It was also 20 years ago.

BTW, 46% on RT with a 5.7 average rating....and that's from critics who bend over backward to crow about Stone's brilliance. So definitely not a home run. If you want to go back 20 years, I'd say People vs Larry Flint was a very good movie (probably his last really good movie).


Psyonikx, NBK was entertaining, but it was so over the top it was like Tarantino on an acid trip. I could see how people would enjoy it, but to me it was mediocre. It was also 20 years ago.

BTW, 46% on RT with a 5.7 average rating....and that's from critics who bend over backward to crow about Stone's brilliance. So definitely not a home run. If you want to go back 20 years, I'd say People vs Larry Flint was a very good movie (probably his last really good movie).


11:01PM on 09/11/2016
Well, Tarantino did write the script to Natural Born Killers, so, there's that.

...and it's still one of my all-time favorite movies.
Well, Tarantino did write the script to Natural Born Killers, so, there's that.

...and it's still one of my all-time favorite movies.
12:23AM on 09/12/2016
People Vs. Larry Flint was Milos Forman
People Vs. Larry Flint was Milos Forman
12:55AM on 09/12/2016
You're right Carl. I was looking at his IMDB page to see when his last film came out that I personally liked and it was listed. I missed him being a producer, not the director.

So that would make The Doors or Born On The 4th Of July as the last movies he made that I felt really presented a compelling argument AND were good films.
You're right Carl. I was looking at his IMDB page to see when his last film came out that I personally liked and it was listed. I missed him being a producer, not the director.

So that would make The Doors or Born On The 4th Of July as the last movies he made that I felt really presented a compelling argument AND were good films.
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