Regardless of the filmmaking quality, Snowden will give almost everyone a sense of unease about the fact that George Orwell was only a few years off with his prophetic novel 1984. As the film illustrates, all of our homes are, essentially, bugged, and our every move is trackable at any given time. Privacy is an illusion.
Now, getting back to the filmmaking quality, Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Wall Street) manages to turn a fascinating story into a strangely unremarkable slog at two hours and eighteen minutes, in spite of a strong cast offering a host of wonderful performances. It's emotionally, and even visually, flat from a director who usually (and perhaps too often) dazzles.
The story of whistleblower Edward Snowden is revealed, primarily, through a series of flashbacks that cut back and forth to the moment the CIA documents are actually released via a British newspaper. Now, Stone certainly knows how to frame a narrative in this fashion, but, here, the transitional edits seem to constantly put the brakes on the momentum of the movie. It gets frustratingly choppy to the point that you disengage and kind of wish you were seeing an HBO documentary on the subject instead.
In the midst of the aforementioned superior acting (with the exception of a bizarre five minute interlude and five second call-back from Nicolas Cage) is Hollywood's most underrated actor and my personal man-crush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Again and again, he's thanklessly wonderful in a movie hardly anyone's going to go out and see. And Shailene Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars) not only seems to have suddenly blossomed into a sleek, glamorous young woman but also portrays Snowden's girlfriend in a way that makes you understand why Edward would do everything he could to keep her near him for love and sanity.
As in other Oliver Stone joints, the movie is veritably littered with Academy Award nominees in roles they would typically consider too small for their professional stature. And speaking of what is typical in an Oliver Stone production, there are several moments when you think, "Ok, is this how it all went down, or is this another case of history-on-acid like JFK was?" Also, the audience is not really invited to make up its own mind about the consequences of Edward Snowden's actions; Ollie does that for you. But, frankly, this might be the only instance where reality was more grippingly suspenseful than the way it's re-told in an Oliver Stone movie. There are more interesting chronicles of this story in documentaries easily available on Netflix.
(Loudinni specializes in movie reviews under 500 words, sans spoilers).