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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 01:21 pm

Stone’s “Snowden” Engaging Agitprop

As with most of Oliver Stone’s fact-based movies, Snowden is a work that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  Fascinating and frightening, the film sets out to give the title character’s point of view concerning his reasons for having released over 1.5 million documents he stole from the CIA and other government agencies to the press.  To be sure, one comes away from the movie, if not sympathizing with the main character, understanding why this anti-hero did what he did…at least according to Stone and fellow screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in Snowden.
Courtesy Open Road Films.

Beginning in Hong Kong in 2013, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets with three journalists (Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto & Tom Wilkinson) in order to negotiate terms for them to have access to the inflammatory material he’s obtained. These negotiations take time and Stone uses that as an excuse to share various flashbacks with the audience to get us up to speed as to how the title character came to be in the pickle he’s in.  We see him as a marine recruit who’s discharged due to injury, as well as in subsequent jobs as a computer analyst, writer of code and backdoor hacker, for the CIA as well as other agencies they hire out to. Along the way, this conservative patriot becomes more and more troubled by the government’s invasive methods, all in the name of preserving our freedom.

All of this is told in an arresting way, propelled by Gordon-Levitt’s committed performance, as well as the work of Shaliene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills and Rhys Ifans as his unnerving immediate superior Corbin O’Brian.  And say what you will about Stone, there’s no question he’s a master storyteller whose skill at sweeping an audience away has few rivals. Before you know it, we’re caught up in Snowden’s ethical dilemma and sharing in his fears, especially after a sequence in which the director powerfully shows how easy it is for a civilian to be caught up in an electronic web of intrigue, thanks to a few random forays on the internet.

Edward Snowden's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shaliene Woodley) proves to be a settling force in his life in Snowden.
Courtesy Open Road Films.

 Of course, where Stone is concerned, you know he has a particular axe to grind and that his perspective may not be as unbiased as he would hope.  Be that as it may, the fact that he’s able to make such compelling and engaging films should at the very least encourage the viewer to seek out other perspectives pertaining to the topic at hand. Agree with him or not, at the very least this provocateur should be seen as one who incites those who question him to seek out the facts to keep him honest. 

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