Oliver Stone just can’t help himself.
Edward Snowden, the subject of Stone’s new biopic, is easily one of the most contentious figures in recent political memory. The centre of a very current debate, his fate still uncertain, wouldn’t it be a great for a film about the former US Government employee to dissect the morality of his actions and not just those of agencies he worked for? Or try to take as morally ambiguous a stance as possible, depict the panoply of issues and let the audience take stock for themselves?
That sounds like a great film, right? Well Snowden is not that film.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of the CIA analyst-turned fugitive, if lacking any significant subtlety, is still the best thing Snowden has going for it. A deeper than typical voice and furrowed brow sufficing for much of the film’s run, an unimaginative turn from Divergent star Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s girlfriend and the nonsensically short addition of Nicholas Cage are only a few of the wanting calls from the Platoon Director’s latest. Rhys Ifans pops his head in occasionally as Snowden’s CIA mentor and it’s on his shoulders that much of the film rises and falls.
One key scene where Ifans’ character attempts to justify his actions in spite of his stated antipathy towards the current Government was exemplary of what Snowden could have been if Stone had shown a measure of the nuance so evident in some of his earlier pictures. One sequence with Ifans ends with a speech only a few notes less gratuitous than Stone’s depiction of key US Cabinet members in an infamous scene in W., similarly a biopic about a notably contemporaneous figure and issue with a negligibly if at all concealed political slant.
A later scene with Ifans, heavily publicized in the film’s promotional material, shows him leering into a video monitor as if he were in 1984, while in one sequence where Snowden extols on the Nuremburg trials and the dangers of untempered government action a drone casually falls from the sky. The symbolism, as intended, will not be lost on even the most casual observer.
As heavy-handed in the idolisation of its key figure as it is unapologetic in its stance, those enamoured with Snowden will feel validated, those otherwise, frustrated with Snowden’s obdurate moralising, and those just wanting to see a film, disappointed for what with a bit of thought could have been a great deal better.