New to On Demand: Snowden

© 2016 Open Road Films. All Rights Reserved. Credit: Jurgen Olczyk

Wait … is someone listening to me here or watching through my webcam as I type this review? Does it matter? That’s the question firmly behind the story of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower with access to government surveillance who went public in 2013. Now, director Oliver Stone gives us his take on the ripped-from-the-headlines story with his film simply titled Snowden.

So how did a man who enlisted to become a soldier, who loved his country without reservation, and who seemed to be oozing patriotism out of every pore, turn out to be one of the most vilified men in the eyes of his government? To discuss this path, we have to start at the beginning.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enlisted in the United States Army with the goal of getting into Special Forces. After breaking both legs in a training accident, he was told there were other ways he could serve his country, and proceeded to use his computer and technology skills to get a position with the CIA. Snowden held a number of positions both within the government and with private security contractors that served the government over the years.

As he slowly became aware of some of the tactics that existed in the surveillance field, Snowden became increasingly skeptical of the government. He made the decision to tell the world about the data that the United States was gathering. In his interviews with writer Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), he exposed the secrets he had in his possession and began a life in exile.

Director Oliver Stone has been known to take on some controversial topics. In Snowden, he once again delivers a tale that has polarized people across the country. Some would call Snowden a hero, and Stone makes sure that we know that with the way he portrays the journalists around Snowden. Others refer to Snowden as traitor who used his access to go places that he shouldn’t have and expose things that should have been kept secret. Stone makes sure to show that side of things, too.

Where this film really works is in the hands of Gordon-Levitt. His portrayal of a man who perceives the weight of the world planted firmly on his shoulders is truly spot-on. This is his movie and, as he portrays the title character, it should be.

Wasted, however, are the supporting characters, from Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, to Leo, Quinto, Nicolas Cage and others. They are stuck in roles that are so entirely written from a surface aspect that we never get deep enough into what makes them tick. But maybe that is the point; the utter chaos surrounding Snowden’s life relegates all those around him to surface characters.

I am personally fascinated by the story of Edward Snowden and I know I give a pass to some of the messiness and superficial nature of this film, but it is still plenty interesting. Stone knows how to give us films that can get under the skin a bit and poke the conspiracy fan in all of us. Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? I think probably a little of both, but between this dramatic telling and the previously released documentary Citizenfour, also referenced in the film, I think there is a lot of Snowden material for us to ponder. Is anyone still listening? If so, know this — Snowden is a film you’ll want to tap into.

Snowden is available On Demand beginning Dec. 27. Check your cable system for availability.