As the uneventful summer film season comes to a close, the fall season starts off with a kick this week with the Oliver Stone directed and Joseph Gordon-Levitt lead film, Snowden. The newest film in Stone’s filmography does not shy away from the political commentary he is known for as Snowden chronicles the life, career, and eventual NSA whistleblowing by real life figure Edward Snowden. While some concerns about the film lingered in my mind after the failure of The Fifth Estate, a film very similar in content to Snowden, I still had a level of intrigue with the project since I enjoyed the Academy Award winning documentary on Snowden Citizenfour and wanted more discussion on the topic. Yet, what I was most curious about was how much more impactful and full of substance could the film possibly be than the documentary. After seeing Snowden this weekend I can confidently say that it adds an element to the Snowden-NSA situation that the documentary could not.
One of the largest problems that plagued The Fifth Estate was that the information that was being presented to the audience was not easily digestible because it was not broken down enough for the average viewer to understand and they could not see how the leaked information about their government would affect them. While some may argue that this over simplification of technology and information in Snowden hinders the realism of the film, I would argue that that is where it finds its success. If certain sequences in the film were not overtly simplified and broken down into their rudimentary actions then the average audience member who is not familiar with computers at the same level of a government hacker like Snowden would either become lost in the plot or write the events off as some science fiction film like the Matrix. In fact, the value in Snowden comes from the fact that it is not some in depth study into what Snowden did but instead a dramatization of his situation that instead serves as an introduction into the Snowden situation for the common viewer to understand.
Another issue that commonly exists in a film like this is over stimulating the audience with information since there is just so much to be said about the situation. Fortunately, the screenplay by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald also includes sections on Snowden’s personal relationship with long time girlfriend, Lindsey Mills played by Shailene Woodley. This allows the audience not only time to digest the harder to swallow information of the film, but also a place to find a human connection within the film even though these sections have some pretty clunky and heavy handed dialogue. Since the audience is able to see the progression of Snowden’s relationship with his girlfriend over the years, they begin to treat him as a real person. By having Snowden humanized in the eyes of the audience then the secrets of the NSA can become demonized when they conflict with Snowden’s morality. By using this method Stone is able to change the point of the film from whether the government programs are good or bad, instead to look what they are doing to our protagonist of the film that we all like.
While many are critiquing Snowden for it’s over simplification of ideas and forced personal story, these elements are what dramatize the film for the average audience allowing them to connect with the story. Those that already know about Snowden’s whistleblowing are not going to take anything away from the film that Citizenfour did not tell them but the film was not made with this intention. No, in fact the film was made with the goal of educating the common person on the situation of Snowden so discussion of the event can become more commonplace and accessible. Once this understanding of the film’s purpose can be reached, those that go and see the film will be very pleased. Therefore, Celluloid Cinema awards the film 4 out of 5 Reels.
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