Aptly jaw dropping and infuriating in the same scene, Oliver Stone’s interpretation of CIA and NSA information leaker Edward Snowden’s life shows promise, but is held back by odd decisions and a lack of narrative focus. The film follows Snowden’s professional and personal life from 2004-2013, inserting focus on his positions in the CIA and NSA before he leaked high level top secret information to the press. A large positive of the film is the astounding work performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, transforming his voice and mannerisms inspiringly to that of Snowden’s. Tracking his maturation from a young man wanting to serve his country any way he can to a man disgusted by his country’s lack of transparency and willingness to break as many laws as it needs to “protect its people.” Gordon-Levitt is quite reserved throughout the film as he displays the inner depression and stress brought on by his work.
Several other notable performances come from Oscar winner Melissa Leo as documentarian Laura Poitras, whose 2014 film Citizenfour is represented in meta-fashion being filmed during the film’s proceedings. She is sympathetic in her approach to her subject, understanding his need to share the information and give power back to the people. Both Rhys Ifans and Nicholas Cage perform well in their small roles as members of Snowden’s past, who represent opposing sides of the conservative opinion while also shoehorning a lesson or two about the “real nature of politics” into their conversations with the young wunderkind.
Shailene Woodley stars in a significant role as Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s partner throughout his time working for the American government. Unfortunately she feels miscast in the role, often appearing taking the safe route in her portrayal with loud conversations about the future of their relationship being the main focus over any actual character development. The biggest disappointment of the film sadly arrives from the drab, meandering script from Stone and co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald. The director tries to spruce up the events by switching from, often gorgeous cinematography, to a bevy of different types of camera combined with flashy editing techniques. The editing choices seem misplaced in scenes, cutting some scenes oddly long, holding on a heavenly Snowden walking into the light before his body is oddly disfigured by distortion or cutting between the mid-seizure of Snowden and his recently drained pot of pasta.
Stone and his crew take the riveting story to heart and deliver a film that altogether is trying to say something very important about the state of secrecy our governments take without the knowledge of its people, yet the film falls short of its material due to its underwhelming and overly long execution.