Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Nic Cage
Watch Snowden online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Edward Snowden. The name conjures up memories of news headlines, lingering fears of how much governments around the world can see of your online activity, and all manner of ethical questions. Regardless of your viewpoint, there’s no denying that Snowden’s decision to turn whistleblower on the NSA’s surveillance was a crucial moment in our modern history. It’s only natural, then, that he should join the list of 21st century figures to be immortalised by cinema.
Oliver Stone’s dramatisation of what happened in the build-up and aftermath of his leak is largely restrained, when it comes to both visuals and political leanings – but that works mostly in the film’s favour. Rather than get sidetracked with a polemic, the director presents events without over-sensationalising them, tweaking details for dramatic effect but not detracting from their importance.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent in the lead, his vocal accuracy helping him become surprisingly convincing as the hacker. He plays well against Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend, Lindsay, who conveys the emotional cost of the man’s transformation from a patriotic soldier into someone jaded with the system, someone who decides to take a stand – a familiar protagonist for Stone fans. Their performances, alongside Nic Cage and Rhys Ifans as grounding, father-like intelligence officials, help things to move along at a gripping pace. Supported by a Craig Armstrong score that, perhaps intentionally, references the nationalist hymn Jerusalem, sequences such as Snowden smuggling information out of the NSA base where he works become genuinely tense.
The result is often more efficient than remarkable, emerging as a less powerful companion piece to Citizenfour, the documentary by Laura Poitras (who makes an appearance here, played by Melissa Leo). But that in itself is revealing: what 20 years ago would have been a cliched, paranoid cyber-thriller now feels like a filmed list of sober facts – a sign of how much the world has changed. Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of that.
Snowden is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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