Snowden is a biographical film directed by Academy Award winner Oliver Stone (the filmmaker behind the politically-charged, thought-provoking films Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, and JFK) and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is known for leaking tons of classified documents to the media in 2013, which revealed how shockingly extensive the US government is spying on and invading the privacy of its citizens and the rest of the world. The movie covers Snowden’s career of service to the US government, from his failed attempt of getting into the Special Forces, to his work as a computer expert for the CIA and then NSA; his romance with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (portrayed by Shailene Woodley); and how he, after years of struggling, decided to sought the help and collaborated with journalists like Glenn Greenwald (portrayed by Zachary Quinto) to reveal the truth to the world.
What I find remarkable about Edward Snowden after watching this movie is how he willingly gave up a relatively stable life in exchange for a chaotically stressful, uncertain (and potentially fatal) one, so that he could inform the world of his government’s disturbingly aggressive and unethical surveillance programs. The possible reasons of why he did it are: a.) he’s really a well-placed or well-recruited (well-paid) spook of a foreign government (like Russia); b.) he’s a deeply disgruntled and disillusioned American citizen/government employee; c.) he’s a cunning narcissist who calculated that, by doing what he did, he would become famous (and have a movie made about him); or d.) he’s a genuinely well-meaning, courageous patriot who was simply burdened by his conscience of the illegal work he and his government were doing. Of course, the movie thoroughly portrays him as letter “d”, and though in reality, we couldn’t accurately determine what’s his full motivations are, the movie effectively projects a sense of authenticity, making us sympathetic towards him.
Snowden isn’t quite a “one of the best of the year” kind of movie. It’s not perfect. For one, it feels a tad bloated. It has some scenes I felt were unnecessary and could have been edited out, cutting its two-hour run time. That said, this is not a boring film at all. The performances are terrific all around. And even when the delivery sometimes gets noticeably romanticized or messily cheesy, the subject it has and questions it asks make it a generally gripping thriller.
All in all, I believe it’s imperative for people to watch Snowden (even if just one time). If not for its outstanding merits as a film, then, at least, for the serious information and insights it contains. It may not have the makings of a classic, but it definitely is amply relevant and thought-provoking to be a must-watch.