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Oliver Stone is the quintessential angry American director. He has causes. He is unapologetic in their pursuit. He makes movies as vehicles for a point of view – his. In his best films, he is passionate and creative. He inspires grand performances (Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, Charlie Sheen in Platoon, Kevin Costner in JFK). He inspires controversy. He stirs the s#$t storm and his movies tend to open loudly and cause trouble.
Snowden does not feel like an Oliver Stone movie. It lacks passion. It lacks vitriol. It doesn’t play like a tense thriller.
Joseph Gordon Levitt is solid as the title character and does a very nice job in the role. His Snowden is a brilliant man, accomplished and posed of a bright future if he wants it. As it turns out, he would rather trade that future for what he considers to be his patriotic mission: exposure of bad practices by American intelligence services.
What Stone’s approach here misses is any sort of struggle the character might feel in doing so. This movie is so straightforward in its hero worship of Snowden that any tension the audience might feel is drained. Because there is little question as to whether or not Snowden should be perceived as a hero, because there is little question that what he is doing is RIGHT, the movie, which I thought would be very interesting, isn’t particularly engaging.
It’s well made. It’s well acted (though the Nicholas Cage extended cameo pulled me out of the narrative – significantly). It tells a story that Americans ought to know.
But it strikes me as a story that should be told in a complex way. Snowden is not complex. It doesn’t take advantage of either its potential thriller roots or its potential journalistic caper roots. It doesn’t take advantage of its strong cast. It’s competent. It’s middle-of-the-road fare.
And, perhaps, therein lies the largest disappointment. What the real Snowden did should be discussed and debated. What the securities agencies did should, likewise, be analyzed. In an election year (yes, I know this election year defies expectation), a movie like this and the subject it features, its release timed as it was, should have some impact on the national conversation.
Did you see Snowden? Are you planning to?
The answers to those questions illustrate much about the movie. They may illustrate much about a filmmaker whose work I enjoy whose time may have passed.
SNOWDEN receives TWO RUBIK’S CUBES out of a possible FIVE.