SNOWDEN (2016) directed by Oliver Stone
Snowden, directed by Hollywood stalwart director Oliver Stone, opened this week at a local theater called Movie Tavern. Movie Tavern is a big chain of restaurant themed movie theaters, which serves food while you watch the video projection film on the screen. The movie I saw was shown in a large theater with plenty of legroom. I caught the afternoon show while my car was being serviced at the dealer. From what I could tell, there were all of two other people in the audience besides me.
I’ve struggled with the right way to review this film. I feel that time needs to pass before you can adequately make a movie about a significant historical event. In the spy genre, you really need twenty good years to be able to do it right. There have been a few other attempts at rushing an espionage thriller on the big screen, most don’t work very well. All The President’s Men (19760 is the best example that comes to mind. Who watches that movie today? As the events described in the movie Snowden came to a climax three years ago, you would think more time should elapse before a film version is released. However, the company that financed it wanted to get the movie out while the topic still had some heat. To his credit, Stone didn’t want to do this movie and needed persuasion.
After letting the film digest for a few days, I finally have an angle on it. This is a hagiography. A hagiography is a depiction of the life of a saint. Snowden wants us to see him as a saint who worked miracles. Since I’m not familiar enough with the events surrounding the story of the movie, I will review it as if is a work of pure fiction. Do understand, there are conflicting views on what really happened.
The film begins with Edward Snowden meeting some journalists in Asia. Then it shoots to the beginning of his personal story as he attempts to serve his company in the military. He falls down from his bunk and breaks a leg. While recuperating in the hospital, he makes contact with an angel who becomes his girlfriend over the internet. She likes all the comics and anime that he does. In addition, she’s drop dead gorgeous so we know she is to be the product of supernatural activity.
Snowden is seen outside the Whitehouse in the Bush years as people protest the US involvement in Iraq (this was a big thing before 2008). He is sorely vexed at them, as they seem to show disrespect to America. However, his angel sets him right as she signs the protestors’ petition.
Next, we see Snowden as he is interviewed for a high-level government position. He tells the interviewer that he wants to be having a top security clearance because it ‘seems neat’. He is whisked away to a CIA training facility where he can only drive in after a full car search. There he meets the tempter, the evil one who will try to bring over to the dark side. This man is very impressed by Snowden as he excels at computer coding and finishes a difficult project, which should take hours, in just over half an hour. We are introduced to the old CIA hand played by Nicholas Cage who will lead him toward the path of righteousness.
Eventually Snowden sees the injustice in the world as the CIA requires him to bring in a rich banker to the fold while he’s stationed in Switzerland. While he questions the things he’s made to do, one of his colleges calls him ‘Snow White” and uses a loose connection of social networks and unsecured laptops to find evidence against the man. They use the vast interconnected social networks to find just enough links to bring them in to the fold.
While he relaxes with his angel, Snowden observers the historic election of Barak Obama to the office of President of the United States. His belief in the overall justice of humanity is reaffirmed. However, he is then put to the test as the various government agencies want him to devise even more fiendish plans to seduce the innocent and pry into people’s lives. Finally, he can take it no more and stands up for truth and justice. The movie concludes with his famous flight to freedom in Putin’s Russia and an interview via satellite before an audience of fawning admirers. The music soars and the credits roll. We see newspaper headlines that show congress and the president have repented of their evil ways. But will good ultimately triumph over evil in the final battle of Armageddon?
The movie works best when if focuses on the techniques of spycraft. A key scene has Snowden smuggling out a huge amount of data on an SD card. How can he do it when everyone who enters the secret Thrush underground base is subjected to a body scan? His solution is one that would have done Napoleon Solo proud. In some ways, it reminds me of the beginning of Assignment K.
There is another great scene where Snowden is talking to his immediate superior on a wall-sized television. As the sinister government operative demands information from EveryGeek Snowden, his face fills the entire screen and glares down at him. The obvious reference to 1984 struck me as ingenious.
The graphics which show how anyone can be traced to anything they’ve ever done on the Internet chilled my bones. It is something to think about the next time a social media platform asks for access to your personal information.
Rather or not you like this film largely depends on your view of the whole Snowden Affair. I haven’t read enough about it to form one, but I’m sure we’ll see many interesting revelations in the years to come.