Film Review: Snowden @ London Film Festival 2016
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★★★★☆Directed by controversial biopic master Oliver Stone, Snowden is a dramatisation of the events in whistleblower Edward Snowden’s life leading up to the 2013 NSA leak. Speaking (via video link) at San Diego Comic Con earlier this year, Snowden himself expressed his discomfort with the movie being made at all, but went on to say: “…[But one thing] Oliver [Stone] has going for him … is that he thinks for himself, and that’s something I respect very highly. You look at his filmography and you can see that nobody tells him what to do,” (via Deadline). This certainly is evident when watching the film, which so effectively sways its audience against the actions of the US government without qualm. The film raises not only the fundamental question of whether NSA and government surveillance of its own citizens is right or wrong, but also adds a far more personal aspect. By following Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) through his personal life alongside his career, the film forces the audience into his shoes, prompting the question of whether each individual watching would have the strength of character and the courage to do what he did. His job-related stress, his depression, his relationship troubles are all so incredibly relatable, yet the enormity of the responsibility placed on his shoulders is almost incomprehensible. His extraordinary intellect is conveyed in a manner that doesn’t at all alienate the character from a mainstream, non-specialist audience. Rather, we are led through the relevant technologies and their implications in a skilfully non-patronising manner, and therefore end up totally on the same page as Snowden throughout. The structuring of the film too is clever. Of course, the audience already knows how it will end - the fact that Snowden will leak the files is of less narrative importance than how he arrived in that position. The build up is revealed to us via Snowden telling the story to journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room, in hiding and waiting for the right time to release the files. The tension is sky high, and Quinto particularly delivers a phenomenal performance in the little screen time he has, portraying the righteous rage at the cowardice of other journalists.
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