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Film review: Snowden

Director Oliver Stone’s thrilling Edward Snowden biopic offers a new definition of the American Hero – a subservient computer nerd, forced by his conscience to become the most daring whistle-blower in US history.

Sep 22, 2016, updated Sep 22, 2016

Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – portrayed early as an ambitious, patriotic apologist for US Government authority and secrecy – is recruited to the CIA by charismatic trainer Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans).

Meanwhile, he meets vivacious photographer Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) over an internet dating site and begins to reconsider his unquestioning loyalty to the intelligence services.

As his prodigious skills rapidly propel his career forward, Snowden is exposed to increasingly disturbing information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He eventually takes the massive risk of stealing millions of highly classified documents, to be shared with a select group of journalists assembled in an anonymous hotel room in Hong Kong.

After his explosive revelations are published, the film follows his perilous escape from China to Moscow, where the real Snowden now lives.

Stone’s film is fast-paced and cleverly structured, and Gordon-Levitt performs impressively as the unnervingly calm and slightly awkward systems analyst.

But the most extraordinary aspect of Snowden may be that the events it dramatises actually happened – and the man at its centre, and the global surveillance network he chose to divulge, actually exist.

There are, already, several excellent documentaries on the subject of Snowden and his disclosures. One of these (HBO’s Citizen Four) includes footage of the whistle-blower speaking with journalists while he was actually contemplating his options in that Hong Kong hotel room; another (Edward Snowden – Terminal F) features extraordinary interviews with the top National Security Agency official burned by his revelations, with the architect of Snowden’s escape to Russia (WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange) and with the young journalist who accompanied Snowden as he fled the country.

What can a very good dramatisation of these events really add? The answer is probably popularisation.

This well-executed film will undoubtedly disturb moviegoers not already fully aware of Snowden’s revelations.

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And it will serve as a coup for the international campaign to have Snowden viewed not as a traitor to government, but as a hero to the people.

 

 

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