The Daily Gamecock

‘Snowden’: a personal and thrilling ride

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden and  Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills in a scene from the movie "Snowden" directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden and Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills in a scene from the movie "Snowden" directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)

Release Date: Sept. 16 

Production Companies: Endgame Entertainment; Vendian Entertainment; KrautPack Entertainment 

Duration: 134 minutes

Grade: A-

Just three years after the famous leaking of classified information from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden, the story has hit the big screen. While it has some problems, director Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” manages to tell the story of the 2013 NSA leak in an undeniably thrilling and powerful way.

“Snowden” follows the true story of Edward Snowden, a former employee of the CIA and the NSA who, in 2013, leaked classified information showing that the NSA was using programs to spy on citizens of the United States.  Rather than making the film into a documentary-type piece or an overly exaggerated thriller, Stone chose a different route and made a deeply personal and engaging film that kept me invested in its characters and story.

Going into the theater, I assumed that I would enjoy the film because it would be a dramatized reenactment of an event that I am already fascinated by. What I didn’t expect was that I would become emotionally attached to the characters and their background as I do for other great films. Even if “Snowden” was fictional instead of being based on a true event, it would still stand as an intriguing character study and a thrilling story.

The glue that holds all of this together, and makes the viewer become invested, is superb acting from the leading cast, especially from Joseph Gordon Levitt as Snowden.  The film takes place at many different stages in Snowden’s life, from his early military days to his CIA training to his eventual job with the NSA. This means that Levitt was tasked with portraying the changes in Snowden as he grows, faces personal problems and slowly learns more about what the NSA is doing. Levitt nails it.

“Snowden” is around two and a half hours long and, though Levitt is almost constantly on screen, his unique mannerisms and energy never falter or lose their effect. As I watched Levitt display stress, heartache, depression, happiness and everything in between with a remarkable amount of detail, I found myself forgetting that this was a real story that I knew the ending of. I grew attached to Snowden as a character and eagerly awaited each new element that came into his life.

Levitt’s co-star, Shailene Woodley, who portrays Snowden’s girlfriend, also deserves a large amount of credit. Generally in movies that tell the story of a true event, I don’t like when a relationship plot is too heavily featured as I feel like it detracts from the point of the film. In “Snowden,” however, I loved the relationship between Lindsay Mills and Snowden because it actually helped shape the story and the characters in a meaningful way.

This relationship plot works in large part because Mills is not the typical female love interest. Mills is smart, independent and defiant. Her extroverted nature simultaneously clashes with and complements Snowden’s personality, making for an interesting plotline that never feels out of place. While their dialogue wasn’t free of a few overly sappy or cliché sections, Woodley and Levitt’s acting was enough to save it as both gave what is, in my opinion, their best performances yet in their careers.

The secondary characters, however, occasionally left something to be desired. A lot of the people that Snowden meet throughout the movie fall into frustrating stereotypes, the worst of which being a few characters who, at times, feel like typical movie villains. In a film that is based on true events, this took me out of the experience a little bit.

The actual cinematography of the film was another big plus as Stone altered his approach depending on the setting and mood of the scene, using a dark color palette for Snowden’s workspaces and a brighter, more romantic selection for his home life and time spent with Mills. Unconventional shots and sequences keep the film fresh and the viewer on his toes.

The film doesn’t provide a completely unbiased portrayal of Snowden as it leans further towards the patriot side of the argument than the traitor side, but regardless of your beliefs, “Snowden” is a thrilling journey. With incredible acting and an interesting use of cinematography, “Snowden” makes up for its flaws and stands as a fun and important film.


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