Review: ‘Snowden’ gives real Snowden story humility

Snowden poster

 

Image: Open Road Films

Image: Open Road Films

Oliver Stone’s latest movie, “Snowden,” opens today and you should go see it.

Fathom Events invited Central Florida Top 5 to an advance screening of Snowden, followed by a live Q&A with Academy Award®-winning director,  Oliver Stone, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, and via satellite, the subject himself, Edward Snowden.

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[No story spoilers in this post.  Read freely.]

Snowden is a modern day thriller about Edward Snowden and how he became one of the most well known whistleblowers and privacy advocates. This telling of this story is based on the books The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

Stone presents the story without delving into the legality of Snowden’s actions. We, the audience, are allowed to learn more about who Snowden is before, during, and after he leaked information regarding various United States government surveillance programs. This film also shows how Snowden first got the media, in this case UK’s The Guardian, involved.



Stone’s casting selection feels authentic. Like many computer professionals I know, Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears intelligent and reserved as the character playing Edward Snowden. As a filmmaker and technology professional, I really appreciate that Snowden’s character wasn’t over popularized.

Many technology films lose the details which make computer programmer or hacker characters human.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt solidly performed the role of a cyber security professional without the usual Hollywood hipster hacker bells and whistles.

Image: Open Road Films

Image: Open Road Films

 

Snowden’s love interest is played by Shailene Woodley. Woodley, seems to just click with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden. I have always appreciated each of Woodley’s film performances. Admittedly, when I first saw the pairing I thought Woodley was a bit Hollywood glitz. However, after researching Lindsay Mills, Edward Snowden’s actual girlfriend, I now see the pairing is quite good.

Image: Open Road Films

Image: Open Road Films

Snowden’s supporting characters, portrayed by the strong ensemble of Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage, and LaKeith Lee Stanfield, were also believable in their roles. To me, they all felt like the technology and news professionals, or computer instructors I have known in the past. The details in this movie really give some humanity to the characters in the story, whether in the newsroom or hotel room, and allows the audience to sense some emotion of what may have been felt in the real life events.



Technically, the film stayed true to how computers work without the usual over the top hacker computer graphics displayed in previous computer films.  The fact that this was Stone’s first film shot digitally was both perfect and ironic. I really appreciate this approach. When I see Virtual Reality gloves or things flying in cyber space I usually am uprooted from the story immediately.  (Thank you Mr. Stone and art direction team.)



I have followed the actual news stories regarding Edward Snowden at arms length due to their content and a distinct understanding of what data may be present in its content. Much of the data is still considered sensitive or classified, including information presented in this film.

Snowden is a film to watch for anyone using the Internet or other connected computing device.  Watch with your opinions, and technology, put aside and emerge with new insight and a good story in the end.

Bonus: Check out Joseph Gordon Levitt’s short film, “Are you there, Democracy? It’s me, the Internet,” with Edward Snowden.