Snowden Film Review: Oliver Stone’s Latest Political Biopic Doesn’t Quite Hack It


Sacha_1633.NEFOpen Road Films

It’s been a hot minute since Oliver Stone has directed a feature film. The last thing we saw from the Academy Award-winning director was 2012’s Savages starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, and Blake Lively — a movie a lot of us would like to forget ever happened. Fast-forward to 2016, where Stone has jumped back into the zeitgeist with the timely political thriller SNOWDEN, which chronicles NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the story of how and why he leaked thousands of classified documents to the press. Since going into exile in Russia, Snowden has become a polarizing figure, touted as a hero by some and a traitor to others. It’s a decent film that applies typical Oliver Stone elements of distrust and paranoia to the red hot topic of surveillance and privacy in the modern age.

Although Stone focuses on the scandal which made Snowden (played here by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) famous, he peppers in bits and pieces about his personal life including his time in the United States Army Reserve where he broke both his legs during a training accident as well as his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). But the real interest here is in Snowden’s NSA scandal and the film does an adequate of telling that story.


Everything covered in the film is something you can find or read somewhere else, and Stone does manage to make it thrilling and cinematic. There is almost nothing in the film, however, that can’t be seen in Laura Poitras’ documentary, Citizen Four — the shooting of which is used as a storytelling device in Stone’s film. The movie begins with Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) meeting Snowden in Hong Kong where he would later share the information about NSA’s surveillance of phone calls, emails, and web activity. Through a series of key moments from the documentary intercut with forgettable character building scenes from his past and personal life, the film builds up to the big climax when Greenwald and fellow journalist Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) release the game-changing breaking news story to their readers with all the information shared by Snowden.

Stone curates a story that will have the audience at the edge of its seat, but it’s a situation where the tense music is more exciting than the events themselves. The big finish is, frankly, bland and is followed by Stone’s signature — intentional or not — preachy epilogue.


Gordon-Levitt, with a distinct timbre in his voice – it’s like a little boy trying to sound like an adult – steps into the titular role with confidence to deliver an applaudable, if predictable, performance while the rest of the talented cast are cogs in Stone’s machine. They’re just… there. Which might be a way to describe the film itself. It’s not groundbreaking and it isn’t a film your friends will urge you to see. Yes, it’s intriguing in parts, but it doesn’t sweep you up in its message; it’s unlikely you’ll rush out of the theater to sign a ‘Pardon Snowden’ petition. Snowden is a welcomed improvement from Stone’s most recent film, but if you’re looking for a truly compelling film about America’s most controversial whistleblower, watch Citizen Four. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Rated: R
Running time: 134 minutes


watches too much , enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.

Twitter: @dinoray

Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer

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