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MOVIE REVIEW: “Snowden” & Why It Made Me Feel Icky

Oliver Stone is having too much fun with Snowden.

I have this mental image of him, snickering and repeatedly punching the former NSA contractor’s arm as they watched the movie together. Because they did. Oliver Stone showed an unfinished version of Snowden to Edward Snowden, which should tell you volumes about this film.

This version of the story has Stone filling in the blanks left by Laura Poitras’ 2014 documentary, Citizenfour. It shows how Edward Snowden went from basic training to the CIA, and met his longtime girlfriend Lindsay along the way. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden with loads of brainiac intensity, but it’s his voice that you’ll notice first. JGL is doing a first-rate Snowden impression, which is at once distracting and impressive. It sounded like he was struggling with a hairball at first, but I stopped noticing it about 10 minutes into the film. The cast as a whole is filled with interesting choices, like Nicholas Cage as an Agency instructor, and Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s photographer girlfriend (and apparent Selfie Queen). Melissa Leo is sweet and supportive as documentarian Laura Poitras and I was especially excited to see my new favorite actor, Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) as Snowden’s like-minded co-worker.

Try as he might, Oliver Stone is never quite capable of infusing Snowden with the intensity he’s shooting for. Dramatic music and space age-y graphics can’t change the fact that you’re just watching people sit at computers. Snowden‘s story is still incredible, but it left me wondering just how much was embellished for the sake of Hollywood. One scene in particular caught my attention, where Snowden sneaks a file out by hiding it in a Rubix Cube. It’s almost too perfect to be real and a reminder that Snowden is a movie, not a documentary.

I enjoyed Snowden more than I expected to, but it left me feeling a little gross. Edward Snowden risked everything to share this information with the world, so we could make our own decisions about it. Has anything really changed, though? Sure, new laws have been enacted but will they fix things? Do we really trust the government to protect our privacy, or will it just find other avenues to get the information it needs? Are we willing to make this sacrifice if it means we are safe from terrorism? Doesn’t that also make us accountable? Let’s take a minute to think about Edward Snowden’s coworkers, as well. Yes, he blew the whistle but what about the countless people he worked with every day? How do THEY feel about the government’s overwhelming access, and what are they doing today, at this very moment? Is it possible that one of them is reading this movie review, as I’m typing it? What if they’re watching me…right now? Or watching you?
Well, THANKS for that reminder, Oliver Stone. Now I need a shower and a Xanax.

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