I am a huge Oliver Stone fan. I love almost all of his films. I have watched JFK and Nixon probably a hundred times and I don’t mind watching it again right now. The Snowden case, on the other hand, was one of the most shocking exposes against the US government in recent history. Not only did it have the perfect recipe for a Shakespearean drama, it involved one and all. Thus, for me, you put the two factors together and you have the most exciting film of the year on the blocks. It’s also a fact that the manner in which Stone approaches these subjects is another mouth-watering proposition for me. So how did Snowden turn out? Was it another instant classic? Was it just about ok? Or was it not that good?
The story is told in fractured timelines as we see Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in his infamous interview with Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Glen Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in that hotel Mira room that was made famous by the sensational documentary Citizenfour. For all those who are not aware of the fact that who Snowden is, I would just like to add a brief intro here. Edward Snowden is the whistle-blower who exposed the US defense machinery by leaking 100s of files to the press that proved that the US were using tech to spy on almost all individuals of the planet. They were doing this in the most unprofessional manner possible and in fact, were invading the privacy of one and all without any reason whatsoever to do so. He worked extensively with the CIA and was for a very long time, the blue of their eyes.
As the film progresses we see how Snowden applied to the special forces and couldn’t clear the training as his bones gave up on him. We also see the beginning of his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). We see how he was recruited by the CIA and the film ends with his escape to Russia after exposing the government. If one has seen the documentary Citizenfour, there is nothing new in terms of content that this film can provide you with. However, I was not looking for content. I already had that figured out. I was looking forward to seeing how Stone laid out the content in his trademark style. I wanted him to tell the story in his own way and I wanted to be enthralled by it.
This is where the film sort of limps. It’s not very entertaining. Even though this is not a bad film from any perspective, it is also not of the standard of Nixon or JFK for that matter. Many will site the extensive content of the other two films to explain the difference in appeal and they will be right to a certain extent. However, I feel that Stone is too great a filmmaker to not be able to elevate the content of this film with his presentation and editing. It has a shocking and relevant story to tell and it does so in a very generic manner that would not leave that much of an impact on you as a viewer. There isn’t a single scene that we can put our fingers on as a great one. For JFK it was the final courtroom showdown, for Nixon it was the scene where Nixon is surrounded by protesting students and he loses his grip on the fact of the matter. There are no such scenes here.
The film is just about two hours fourteen minutes long and it feels longer than that especially in the second half. That isn’t something that happens too often with Oliver Stone films. The film is shot in the trademark Stone style and shot well. The visuals feel very crisp and dripping with digital finesse. The score too is great but somehow it doesn’t have the kind of impact that I expected of it. In the second half, the film starts getting awfully repetitive. By the time the final credits role, we even get to see the real Snowden taking over a speech that we were seeing Levitt give. That was not a good thing to do in my opinion. It just felt odd.
The biggest plus of the film is the performances. Every performance is great. Levitt as Snowden is believable even though he looks nothing like him. He is apt in the scenes of revelation. His tension feels very real and it also helps that he is able to strike out a nice chemistry with Woodley who plays his beau. Shailene Woodley plays Lindsay mills and even though she has a smallish role, she feels right at home. Not only is she pretty to look at but also gets the feel of her character. Nicholas Cage has a small role and he does well even though he is in no way near the crazy that he is known for. Rhys Ifans plays Corbin O’Brian, the primary contact point of Snowden and he is mighty impressive. One can feel the evil-reeking from his brow and yet he is so poised and impressive that you are bound to stand up and take notice of his personality. The performances are easily the high points of this film and they are the ones that sustain your interest in the narrative till the very end.
Overall, Snowden was one of my most highly anticipated films of this year and yet it turned out to be a bittersweet experience. It is a good film but it is just not gripping or entertaining enough to give you that wow! Feeling that we look for in a film. It still has an important story to tell and is laced with some wonderful performances. It can easily merit a view or two but don’t expect a JFK or Nixon.
Rating : 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)