Monday, 5 October 2015


How wonderful and strange it is that one of the most enthralling thrillers of recent memory is a documentary. Every horror movie of recent years opens with some form of “based on real life events that actually happened and definitely are not fictitious”, before launching into a story about possession, ghosts, and suspiciously vague webcam footage. Citizenfour does not open with one of these claims, instead opting for a statement from the documentarian, Laura Poitras, explaining how she has been detained countless times, and then a voice over of her dictating an email conversation between herself and an anonymous party under the pseudonym Citzenfour. No gimmicks. No hyperbole. Just intrigue. And it only builds on that.

Directed by Laura Poitras and out now on DVD comes Citizenfour. Edward Snowden, codename – Citizenfour. Whether you see him as a hero or villain in his role of leaking some of the most terrifying secrets in regards to surveillance, it cannot be denied that he has changed the world forever. Citizenfour puts you by his side while he meticulously planned out where, when, and how he was going to reveal all of the information he amassed during his time at the NSA. Filmed by Poitras, Snowden spends nearly all of his time camped out in a Hong Kong hotel aiding journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill with the ins-and-outs of the data and how to release it. Throughout the film, Snowden remarks that he does not want this leak to be about him as he does not want to detract from its significance, but unfortunately, that was inevitable. 

The star of the show is, undoubtedly, Snowden. It’s disturbing to watch how the paranoia has become a part of him, how the bags under his eyes droop in front of you as the film progresses, and  to see what lengths he has gone to in order to expose this massive scandal. You find yourself forgetting that this is a documentary because it all seems so unfathomable. You have to remind yourself that these are real people, risking everything they have for us, the public. It’s small things that snap you back to reality, like when a loud ringing begins inside the hotel just as the journalists and Snowden begin discussing a rather sensitive subject. The alarm stops. The silence is painful. You can’t breathe. Everyone looks at each other. It starts again. The confusion sets into panic as Snowden calls down to the front desk to enquire about the sound. Even with the alarm test explanation, something doesn’t feel right.

I watch a lot of thrillers, but this is a tension you cannot get in films. You cannot manufacture this, and it’s terrifying to watch, but just as exciting. As bad as it is, we all love scandal, we all love being thrilled, and Citizenfour has both in bucket loads. Snowden reveals little that you cannot read up on in the data revealed, but to see these journalists learning these shocking secrets before everyone else shows just how important this is. When Snowden explains that all NSA staff could watch real-time drone feeds from around the world, the journalists are dumbfounded, and so are we as viewers. It’s enthralling. We must know more.

However, apart from a pretty big bombshell revealed at the end of the documentary, little else is revealed except that these people’s lives have changed forever, and so have ours. But even when secrets aren’t being revealed, when gossip has all but dried up, it’s still an encapsulating watch. The editing is astounding and the soundtrack haunting, making for a documentary that blurs the lines between film and documentary, but that’s not a bad thing, in fact, it is a testament to Poitras as a documentarian. Citizenfour is so unbelievable, so well made, that fact feels like fiction, but ultimately it is always brought to our attention that this is something happening right now, and it is happening to us.

Watch it for the scandal, watch it for the gossip, watch it for the stellar production, so long as you watch it, I don’t care.

Citizenfour will disgust, terrify, and disturb you. It’s perfect. 5/5.


Jonny Naylor

Citizenfour at CeX

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