Tonight’s movie, Snowden.
Snowden is Oliver Stone’s dramatization of the events already told in Laura Poitras’ Citizen 4. Unlike that film, we are not constrained the documentarian’s camera, and we can see Edward Snowden experiencing the formative events that lead him to take the actions he did. One interesting device Stone uses is to have (the portrayed) Poitras turn the camera off, so that Snowden can deliver dialog in the Hong Kong hotel which is absent from the actual documentary footage.
Stone visited Snowden in Russia and interviewed him extensively, so one can hope for veracity in the “dramatized” bits. In a nice touch (and I sincerely hope I’m not spoiling the ending with this!), actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt morphs into the actual Edward Snowden for the final scenes of the movie.
Olivers Stone’s politics are never far from the fore in any of his films. Sometimes that can ruin his movies, but in other cases his skill as an artist transcends his message to create something beyond what he ever intended (think “Greed is Good.”) Like so many of his characters, Snowden starts out an innocent patriot and, naively, a conservative before becoming disenchanted with George Bush and his policies. He initially hopes that Barack Obama will follow through on his campaign promises to reverse the trend (not a Stone thing, Snowden said it himself in Citizen 4), but becomes even more alarmed as the Obama government, if anything, is worse than before. One can assume that Stone’s disenchantment mirrors that of Snowden.
The film also includes footage from the presidential debates showing, in particular, that Hillary Clinton was unsympathetic to Snowden (although it is a bit difficult to cut through the doublespeak) likely implying that a Clinton presidency would continue on the same bad trajectory. A short clip of Donald Trump, using a bit of his characteristic bombast, criticizing Snowden is also included. The placement of it makes me wonder if it was thrown in just before release, when the possibility of a Trump presidency started to become remotely thinkable.
The only set of lines delivered in support of Edward Snowden during the political montage is uncredited on-screen but to savvy ears is clearly Bernie Sanders. One assumes this was Stone’s choice for the presidency (perhaps still a possibility during editing) and his last hope for both Snowden and, perhaps, the nation.
A few additional minor points in the story that got me thinking.
Snowden (the film) implies that the breaking point for Snowden (the man) was first the possibility, and then the knowledge, that people known to him in the government were observing his girlfriend’s private and intimate activities. I’m not aware that he has said as much explicitly. If you haven’t seen it, though, he speaks generally of the concept of how the government accessing your “dick picks” comes home to ordinary people much more than discussions of metadata in an interview with John Oliver.
The storytelling depicts several of Snowden’s co-workers, including a senior-level mentor, to be complicit in his actions. I don’t know how this jives with federal investigations and charges. If it doesn’t, I wonder if it reopened things?
Lastly, in close to the movies final scene (again, I hope I’m not spoiling anything), Snowden is shown to be deleting all his copies of the stolen data, leaving the several journalists with the only access to what he took. This is before he leaves Hong Kong for Russia. This would absolve Snowden of the accusations by the U.S. government that the information he stole, either intentionally or inadvertently, ended up in the hands of Putin’s security services once he entered Russia. If it was deleted, that simply would not be true. However, we have no way to verify that this is what happened, except for Oliver Stone’s belief in what he was told by Snowden himself.
Bottom line, I have to give this film my top rating on the subject matter alone. Unless you dismiss what is being shown as misdirecting propaganda, this may be one of the defining events of our generation.