Thursday, 12 January 2017


Three years ago the media went crazy over Edward Snowden, a whistle-blower from the CIA who revealed to the world that the entire population was being watched via online and mobile phone surveillance. Although not talked about so much anymore, Snowden’s actions have provoked many a discussion into whether or not this should be happening. Now director Oliver Stone has brought the conversation back into the public eye with ‘Snowden’.

The story is an intricate one, told through flashbacks of his past as Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sits in a hotel room with film journalist Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and two journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) from CNN and The Guardian. We start in the army, witnessing Snowden’s medical release as he discovers he has weak leg bones, and his acceptance into the CIA by Deputy Director Corbin O’Brien (Rhys Ifans), who quickly notes Snowden’s intelligence. At the start he is a complete patriot of the US, but after seeing some of the programs that the CIA use to source their information he slowly begins to question the moral integrity of it all.

Snowden’s whistleblowing certainly isn’t a new story, but Stone’s interpretation of it makes the whole thing more accessible for those that found it all a tad overwhelming when it first came out. The subject matter is very intense and so will probably appeal more to those who had an interest previously, but there’s not quite so much jargon to deal with and comes across as an intelligent and gripping thriller for fans of the genre. 

You can’t fault the acting at all – Gordon-Levitt is exceptional as Snowden and completely gets across his intelligence and sobriety. Ifans is also wonderful as O’Brien – there’s a particular scene that sees with O’Brien’s face towering over Snowden in a conference call, which visually sums up the whole issue with the situation. Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsey, played by Shailene Woodley is notable as well; although some may see her character as distracting to the main plot, I felt the inclusion of their relationship helped to personalise the film, and add something extra to what we already knew about Snowden. It also emphasised just how much Snowden lost out on by getting that information out there.

I was worried that the film would be highly biased, but it wasn’t as much as I thought – there was a lot of emphasis on Snowden’s rhetoric that “the public needs to decide.” It felt like a very shiny documentary in parts, which was probably down to sources that Stone used – ‘The Snowden Files’ by Luke Harding and ‘Time of the Octopus’ by Anatoly Kucherena, as well as Snowden himself. Of course it’s fairly easy to see how Stone and his fellow crew feel about Snowden and what he did, but it’s not shoved down your throat or aggressive to those that don’t agree with his actions.

‘Snowden’ is an immersive and absorbing take on whistle-blower Edward Snowden and his motives behind the information that he leaked to the world, though to get the most out of this film set in the complex world of security and surveillance you’ll certainly need to keep a focused eye. 4/5


Hannah Read

Snowden at CeX

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