A superb leading performance in a film that treads a too familiar path.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt


Back in 2013 Atom Egoyan made an unnecessary film entitled The Devil's Knot. I call it unnecessary because its subject matter, a true story, had already been treated to far greater effect in a brilliant documentary, West of Memphis (2012). One assumes that the theoretical justification for the enterprise lay in the fact that documentaries usually attract far fewer viewers than dramas played out by actors. A comparable issue arises with Oliver Stone's Snowden written by him and Kieran Fitzgerald which describes itself as a dramatisation of actual events. Indeed, Melissa Leo appears in this film as Laura Poitras whose documentary, Citizenfour (2014), treated Edward Snowden and his hijacking of emails done to reveal hidden surveillance in America and elsewhere undertaken on the grounds of security. That story was of such significance that the public knowledge of it through the media outweighs even the familiarity of it in the cinema through Citizenfour.


In retelling the story of a man regarded by some as a traitor but by many as a hero, Stone is partisan in presenting the facts sympathetically. I have no problem with that, but his film is an uneasy affair. Despite the dramatisation acknowledged, he seems keen to adopt a detailed documentary approach but, perhaps fearful of Citizenfour having covered the actuality already, he adds conflicting elements. Early on the music score by Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters smacks of the kind of tension-inducing music favoured so knowingly in fictional films. In addition, there are passages (not least in moments of crisis regarding Snowden's health) which in this context appear over-directed, and then some. Furthermore, Stone seems to have encouraged that admirable photographer Anthony Dod Mantle to indulge in self-conscious lighting effects.


Covering the period from 2004 to 2013 and taking 134 minutes to do it, Snowden has little new to bring to the table and a stellar supporting cast (see the credits below) are for the most part given little to do. As Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), brings an engaging individuality to her characterisation even if the scenes of passing tension between the couple do not find the screenplay at its most persuasive. But what helps to sustain the film is its central performance. In an ideal piece of casting (confirmed when at the close we glimpse the real Edward Snowden), Joseph Gordon-Levitt is impressively believable: in his portrayal there is a consistency and a conviction, a wholly credible authenticity, lacking in the film as a whole.




Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Nicholas Rowe, Timothy Olyphant.


Dir Oliver Stone, Pro Moritz Borman, Eric Kopeloff, Philip Schulz-Deyle and Fernando Sulichin, Screenplay Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone from the book by Anthony Kucherena and Luke Harding, Ph Anthony Dod Mantle, Pro Des Mark Tildesley, Ed Alex Marquez and Lee Percy, Music Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters, Costumes Bina Daigeler.


Endgame Entertainment/Vendian Entertainment/KrautPack Entertainment-Vertigo Releasing.
134 mins. France/Germany/USA. 2016. Rel: 9 December 2016. Cert. 15.