ReelBob: ‘Snowden’

By Bob Bloom

Depending on your political bent, Edward Snowden is either a hero for exposing the U.S. government’s program of extensive and illegal collection of data on its citizens or a traitor for telling the world about the program.

It is clear where director Oliver Stone stands on the issue. In “Snowden,” he frames the former CIA and NSA employee as a patriot and idealist whose idealism is shattered as the extent of U.S. domestic-spying activities becomes clearer to the intellectually gifted young man.

Snowden’s story is known well enough that Stone focuses more on the analyst’s gradual disillusionment with the federal agencies that used the excuse of protecting its citizens to delve deeply into the details of their private lives.

In the real world, of course, this issue is much more complex with shades of grey about national security, terrorism threats and constitutional issues.

As a moviemaker, Stone has simplified all of this — Snowden is right; the government is wrong.

In taking this tact, Stone serves more as a defense attorney for Snowden than a cinematic chronicler of his actions.

Snowden’s CIA mentor, Corbin O’Brian, played by Rhys Ifans, makes the government’s justification for using these programs easy for all of us to comprehend: “Secrecy is security, and security is victory,” he explains.

Stone, then, pays a price for foisting his viewpoint on moviegoers: He creates a “villain,” which is not really required.

Yes, the government’s surveillance policies were ruled unconstitutional. Yet, many believe they were not done out of malice, but in a misguided attempt to protect the nation and its citizens.

At least, Stone is taking a stand. And with Joseph Gordon-Levitt portraying Snowden, Stone has found a committed performer who can articulate his position without becoming preachy.

Gordon-Levitt is a wonderful actor who is skilled at doing more with less. He does not need to be bombastic or self-righteous.

His eyes tell the story; as his Snowden slowly sees the country he so dearly loves, abuse its power by turning many of the defensive cyber weapons he helped create, turned on its own people.

His face plainly shows his pain and sadness, the betrayal he experiences as his superiors cavalierly rationalize their abuses.

Stone makes Snowden too perfect, too much of a technological Don Quixote. Allowing him to show some warts would have humanized him. Instead, Stone transforms Snowden into a symbol, a knight championing our civil liberties.

This is not to demean “Snowden,” an entertaining and chilling movie that, at about 134 minutes, keeps you engrossed.

What “Snowden” needed was less of a soapbox and more humanity.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

3 stars out of 4
(R), language, sexual content, nudity

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