Edward Snowden. Mention of his very name will either conjure the image of a despised traitor or a selfless hero in your mind, depending on your biases and political outlook. It is also the controversial subject of Oliver Stone’s latest biopic, which covers not only the pivotal events leading up to the big exposé but also delves into Snowden’s past and gives us a glimpse into who he is and what makes him tick.
Not having seen Laura Poitra’s documentary on Snowden, ‘Citizenfour,’ I have the luxury of evaluating ‘Snowden’ on its own merits. Despite his blatantly liberal outlook, Stone gave us another masterfully crafted film that’s not only a well-paced and suspenseful nail-biter but also makes us think. Snowden was part of that new breed of post-9/11 warriors in the intelligence community which relies more on brains than brawn, the computer nerds on the front lines of America’s cyber wars against near-peer adversaries like China and Russia. As he’s immersed deeper into the black world of America’s cyber-intelligence activities, first with the CIA and then with the NSA, he becomes increasingly alarmed at the implications such activities had on our individual privacy and personal freedom.
Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealing to see how Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a great “method acting” job here mimicking his voice and mannerisms) gradually transformed from a conservative patriot whose devotion to Uncle Sam can be characterized as one of blind faith to a man who made the difficult and fateful decision to betray his own government by becoming a whistleblower. Shailene Woodley also turned in a fine performance as his free-spirited love interest and conscience, Lindsay. While ‘Snowden’ doesn’t seek to answer all of our burning questions, it is nonetheless a thought-provoking and paranoia-infused thriller that would be perfectly placed next to Stone’s previous conspiracy-tinged movie, ‘JFK.'