Review: What happen between Joseph Gordon Levitt, biopics, and some subjects which have previously won Oscars for Best Documentary? He did a Phillipe Petit’s impersonation for Robert Zemeckis in The Walk (2015) following an Oscar winning Man on Wire of the same subject. He did it again—an impersonation of Edward Snowden for the sleeping giant, Oliver Stone in aftermath of another Oscar campaign, Citizenfour.
Edward Snowden, the subject matter, is no stranger for modern, internet-literate people. An ex-CIA and NSA, who became a whistleblower and, finally, fugitive after he leaked important American surveillance state, which trespasses people’s privacy. A people’s hero and a national enemy, Ed Snowden is a poignant and important subject for biopic (well, google his name might give better insight of how poignant and important he is) now or in the future.
Oliver Stone, a veteran for poignant biopics (JFK, Nixon, etc), has no interest in sanctifying Snowden nor cursing his deeds; he only wants to make the audiences looking into the issue as a holistic and delving into the identity of Edward Snowden. It’s a work of profound research and naturalistic approach; leaving little room for dramatization and more rooms for observation. Snowden in Oliver Stone’s hand becomes a making-of extraction of Laura Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour and Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide with JGL’s captivating performance.
Snowden (2016) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto | Image via IMDb
Narrated in from the moment Snowden (JGL) unravelling his deeds to documentary filmmaker, Poitras (Melissa Leo) and The Guardian journalist, Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in circa 2013 in Hong Kong, it basically a behind-the-scene reenactment of those sources mentioned previously. Based mostly on Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Snowden flows like an espionage-thriller in form of docudrama. While it mostly covers a point of view from Ed Snowden only – presented through series of flash back and interpersonal interaction, Oliver Stone makes sure that every little detail matters. How Snowden becomes a person he is now; how an idealistic Snowden rises quickly in career then decides to let them go when he’s only 29; how he interacts with his mentors and closest people; there’s no over-dramatization, but tension comes back and forth in many forms, at many moments.
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Owing much to Citizenfour’s story-framing, Oliver Stone creates his own cinematic universe where he lets our recent history tells, although we know to which side he’s on. While retaining most of his approaches to portray a controversial figure in a most Oliver Stone’s way, Snowden still appears to be his feel-good movie. Clocking in at 2 hours, Snowden is packed up with tension in full throttle; but, at the same time, it feels like a pure narrative than a re-telling, which sometimes urges the tension to hit the brake.
The best part of Snowden, aside from Oliver Stone’s most Oliver Stone direction is Joseph Gordon Levitt. His impersonation of Edward Snowden is, beyond belief, impeccable. Physical resemblance and voice-tone are only a little part of what makes his tenure as Snowden a very sympathetic one. When there’s a real cameo of Snowden in near end, the transition between his based-on-himself persona and his real persona goes subtle because of JGL’s prominent magnetism.
At the same time, JGL’s electric performance is sustained by similarly prominent ensemble of casts. From Snowden’s love-interest, Lindsay Mills (Shaylene Woodley), to his mentor, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) and Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage in an unusually enticing performance), to the journalists and filmmaker, all the casts play the part impeccably.
Snowden (2016) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Shaylene Woodley | Image via IMDb
While the casts led by JGL are astounding and Oliver Stone’s direction is a legit one, Snowden still suffers mostly from repetitive braking on the cinematic narrative, which makes the film losing a lot of momentums. Stone’s tendency to a side is also taking some tolls when there’s an attempt to justify some plot points. And, in the end, there’s no real conclusion to the case brought in the movie. History continues and Snowden only reveals a part of it which used to be matter. While that’s not necessarily on the filmmakers’ account; but giving the cinematic narrative of a less-dramatized docudrama an ‘unfinished’ ending might leave a big gap.
One of the biggest impact Snowden brings is the revelation of Snowden’s deeds of leaking the biggest privacy invasion into a digestible story. It might raise public awareness more than before; thanks to Stone’s idealistic direction. It’s a message worth a long, sometimes tiring film.
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Biography, Drama, Thriller Directed by: Oliver Stone Written by: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone Starred by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Nicolas Cage, Rhys Ifans Runtime: 134 mins Rated R