Directed and co-written by Oliver Stone, Snowden is a biopic about the infamous story of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a CIA and NSA contractor who released confidential information about how the American government was collecting metadata from people and countries around the world.
When discussing this story, everyone has his or her preconceived notions about this story. You either think Snowden is a well-intentioned whistleblower or that he is a traitor and anything in between. I’m not immune to these preconceived notions when it comes to films like this one, but I try to check everything at the door. Regardless, Oliver Stone creates extremely biased films, so if you don’t feel the same way as him about this story, you will probably hate this film despite the fact that he does a good job of providing information from both sides that can make you question your preconceived notions.
Stone’s ability to play both sides of the issue for this film was probably one of the best parts of this film. Stone is able to create a sympathetic character in Edward Snowden while simultaneously making the government not seem as evil as he could have. It seemed that he was trying to create two fair sides instead of demonizing one side while painting the other side as saint-like. By doing this, Stone managed to challenge the preconceived notions regarding the situation and thus challenged the audience in a way that he didn’t necessarily need to.
The other thing about this film that is spectacular is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden. He is absolutely spot-on as Snowden and there were several shots in the film that, because of the angle and lighting, I was actually convinced that he was the real-life Snowden. He was also able to get the voice of Snowden down pat. I listened to interviews with the real-life Snowden after I left the theater and Gordon-Levitt’s performance is probably one of the most accurate performances of someone in a biopic about someone who is actually still alive (Sorry, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln). I love Gordon-Levitt as an actor, and this is probably his second best performance behind his performance in the drastically underrated and under-exposed Brick.
However, this film is not without its faults; the most egregious of these problems is the length. I don’t care about the runtime of films at all because I think filmmakers should make films with the runtime that they need, but this film runs about 20-30 minutes too long. There are parts of the film that could’ve been completely cut out of the film because they really didn’t mean much to the overall story that was being told about the leaked documents. This film felt like it could’ve been a director’s cut of the film instead of the theatrical that most people see. The other problem was that these extraneous scenes were boring. I didn’t care about the scenes at all which is a serious cinematic sin; a film should not include scenes that don’t enhance the overall story in addition to being boring because the audience will check out and lose interest because of those scenes.
Overall, Snowden is an interesting film with a great performance and the ability to change preconceived notions, but it is excessively long with long segments of the film that are, simply put, boring.