Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Snowden’ lacks excitement, depth

Andrew Shermoen

Director Oliver Stone is a capable filmmaker, but he still has had yet to bring himself out of the slump he’s been in since the late ‘90s.

Based on the true story, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an ex-soldier devoted to his country, decides that his computer expertise to put his computer expertise to use in the CIA. After gaining clearance to view classified surveillance data, he wrestles morally with whether or not to leak this information to the public and become the most wanted man in the country.

“Snowden” is easily Stone’s best film since “Nixon,” but that doesn’t mean it is worthy of unending praise. It isn’t a return to form, nor is it a revelatory biopic or brilliant thought-piece on American culture. “Snowden” is a film that, frankly, did not need to be made.

Stone is notorious for his focus on tough political subjects. He despises war, as seen in “Platoon,” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” loves history and is critical of political systems. He has been consistently unafraid to show America in its worst moments, and he loves characters who are notoriously selfish and egomaniacal, as shown in “Wall Street.” It’s a miracle he hasn’t made a Donald Trump film yet. His craft is persuasion, but he’s also a storyteller. His stories examine perspectives one would rarely ever see. He chooses boring topics, and is unable to charge the script with any pathos or finesse. “Snowden” is a legible film, but nobody writes home about legible. Its script and story flows, the writing is fine and often boasts honest emotion, the acting all around is brilliant (even Nic Cage is fine), and some of the shots and sequences are visually stunning, which is suspected from Anthony Dod Mantle.

The cast is exceptional. Levitt has captured the unique persona of Snowden so well that one wonders if he isn’t just a vessel for Snowden himself. Shailene Woodley brings true emotion to the love and tension in the relationship of Snowden and Lindsay Mills. Mills is one of the most private figures in the entire story of Snowden’s leak and the best moments of the film feature their relationship.

I think the central issue of this film’s failures is its subject. Everything that “Snowden” tried to be was done better in “Citizenfour,” a 2013 documentary about the leaks directed by Laura Poitras. Melissa Leo plays Poitras in “Snowden,” and the character’s presence is a constant reminder that her real life counterpart’s time spent interviewing Snowden over a four day period in Hong Kong is head and shoulders better than “Snowden.” If you feel the urge to watch a film that gets into Snowden’s headspace, “Citizenfour” is a much better way to spend your time than the deeply uninteresting narrative of “Snowden.”

Stone has clearly fallen from grace, and while he has captured an interesting subject he is unable to provide that subject with the gravitas he was once known for. “Snowden” is a mediocre film with brilliant performances that is just too early for its time.