‘Snowden; by Oliver Stone: Biased but still powerful drama

Oliver Stone's latest film clearly has an agenda as Stone’s strong use of facts and real Snowden moments succeeds in selling Americans the opinion that he is “an American.”

Snowden film

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2016 –  “Snowden,” Oliver Stone’s latest film, hit theaters this weekend highlighting the story of Edward Joseph Snowden and his career as a National Security Agency analyst turned “whistle-blower.”

Director Oliver Stone gives us the personal story of Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from his days in the military to his eventual escape to Russia where he still resides today.

Stone’s film becomes the first dramatization of Edward Snowden’s actions and reignites the debate of whether Snowden is a hero or villain. While Levitt portrays Snowden throughout the film, Stone manages to sneak in small scenes of the real Edward Snowden.

The film does not add any more insight for those who have closely followed news reports about America’s most famous whistleblower. For moviegoers who have not paid attention, Stone successfully explains why his leaks mattered and how Snowden is a key part of the story.

Edward Snowden: Whistleblower or Foreign Intelligence Agent?

Stone’s re-creation of Snowden’s life mixes facts with Hollywood fantasies. Stone focuses on several key points in the Snowden story, including the debate over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, PRISM, and Snowden’s meetings with left-wing journalists Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras. The latter is also a radical filmmaker whose own documentary film on Snowden, “Citizenfour,” debuted in 2014.

In “Snowden,” the focus on the War on Terror is relocated from Iraq to cyberspace. Snowden tears through a major “destroy a network and bring it back online” training exercise faster than anyone else in his class in a scene that parrots pretty much every other “young gun astounds his professors” scene in modern filmmaking.

Stone does not present many well-drawn, fleshed-out characters other than Edward Snowden himself and his girlfriend, Lindsey Mills (played by Shailene Woodley). While the film does not deliver a slam-dunk story, Gordon-Levitt’s performance as the quiet Snowden is deserving of a Best Actor nomination.

Stone’s strong use of facts and real Snowden moments succeeds in selling at least some viewers on the premise that Snowden is a “real American.” However, the film’s opening weekend fell short of predicted box office numbers, resulting in the lowest opening take for an Oliver Stone film playing in over 2,000 theaters, and critics have been giving it mixed reviews.

Snowden himself, however, has recently begun tweeting about the film and has even retweeted tidbits about accurate scenes, arguing the film confirms inaccuracies in the House Intelligence Committee’s report on the Snowden leaks.

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