Saturday, September 24, 2016

Snowden Review

If you've lived on planet Earth at any point in the last two years, there's a good chance that you've at least heard the name Edward Snowden. If you're one who's interested in politics, there's an even better chance that you know quite a bit about this man as he's one of the most controversial figures living today. Opinions of Snowden are all over the map in both parties. Some think he is an American hero and want him pardoned. Others think he is a traitor to our country and deserves to die for his crimes. Then we have just about every opinion in between. My thoughts on Snowden? Ha ha! Not going to happen. Not on this post, anyways. As much as I would love to dive into a deep political discussion on Snowden, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I am going to stick to writing a movie review on this new movie that Oliver Stone has made. If you don't know much about Snowden, but you're interested in learning more, I'd actually recommend checking out the documentary Citizenfour. If you've seen Citizenfour and/or you already know a lot about Snowden after following the media stories about him these last few years, then I don't know if this new movie is really worth your time. There's nothing new here. Thus this is kind of a pointless outing. But at the same time, this is not a bad movie. Just a bit of a tricky one to review because of all these factors.

The story of Edward Snowden is a rather fascinating one. Here's a man who was presented with quite the moral dilemma. After getting a job in the CIA, he quickly noticed that there were some sketchy things going on in the government, specifically with the NSA. In a post-9/11 world, the government was super sensitive towards national security in order to try to prevent more terrorist attacks. This caused the NSA to start essentially spying on everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. They would go through emails, messages, phone records, and more searching for key words that might infer terrorism. This would even lead to spying on people through cell phones and web cams. The intentions were good. Prevent terrorism. But were the actions justified? Enter Edward Snowden. He's not cool with this because, like many other people, he values his privacy and thinks the NSA crossed a line. What's worse is that in court, the NSA denied everything. Snowden is high enough up that he has the ability to rat out the NSA, but doing so requires him to steal classified documents in order for him to officially have proof. Something that is very illegal. Yet that's exactly what he does. His intentions were good. Protect privacy. But were his actions justified?

Enter the documentary Citizenfour. Through cryptic emails, he contacts two journalists and a documentarian to come have a series of interviews. He gives them the information and the journalists write their stories and break the news while the documentarian films everything and works on getting the documentary out. The reporters names are Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill while the documentarian's name is Laura Poitras. Greenwald and MacAskill broke their stories in 2013. Laura Poitras released her documentary in 2014. It's called Citizenfour. The actions of the four of them had the desired effect as the story gained immediate worldwide coverage, which in turn led the government to charge Snowden with a whole bunch of crimes wherein he responded by hiding in Russia, where he currently is at. This is why I say that if you want to know more about Snowden, you should watch that documentary Citizenfour and get everything from the horse's mouth. It's a phenomenal documentary. It's simple, straight to the point, and extremely thought-provoking. Even if you are against Snowden, I still think this is a good documentary to watch so that you can get his perspective on things from him instead of listening to second-hand sources.

Or you can watch Oliver Stone's movie Snowden. Which in my opinion is like reading news from those sites that focus solely on reporting on what other sites have reported on. They'll usually summarize the article in some way and either give their own twist on it or add in their own biased opinion. Sometimes those sites are fine. And there's a way to successfully report on stuff like that. But many of those sites out there do a poor job at journalism and thus in my opinion it's better just to go to the original source and read those articles. A concept that Facebook's new trending section doesn't seem to understand. Not once have I seen Facebook source primary sources in their trending section like CNN, ESPN, or Deadline. It's always the dumb, secondary sources and thus I go to Facebook's trending section for my daily entertainment as I laugh at everything they post instead of going there for actual news. Why do I bring up Facebook's trending section? Well, I wanted to use them as an example. When it comes to learning about Snowden, you can either watch Citizenfour or go read the news articles that broke the story or you can be like Facebook's trending section and choose to learn about Snowden by watching Oliver Stone's Snowden.

In summary, my opinion of this movie is that it's kind of a pointless movie. But if I ignore all of that for a moment and focus on the cinematic qualities of this film, there are a some things to be said here, both bad and good. First of all, this is a bit of a missed opportunity. As I inferred earlier, this is not a black and white discussion. I honestly think that both sides had good intentions, yet both sides did something very wrong and illegal. The NSA was trying to prevent terrorism. But they did so by spying on every American. Edward Snowden was trying to protect our privacy. But he did so by stealing classified government documents and revealing them to the public. This movie had the opportunity to go in completely unbiased and present both sides of the argument to the public and let people decide for themselves. That could've led to a fascinating movie. But no. This is Oliver Stone. He's known for making controversial political thrillers and very rarely does he go in objectively and this is no different. Oliver Stone has decided to take the approach that Snowden is an American hero, a whistleblower akin to those who uncovered the Watergate Scandal. The government in this movie are the villains. Turning a gray subject into a black and white subject was a bit disappointing.

The good? Well, one advantage of a film over a documentary is that there is the ability to show instead of just tell. Much of Citizenfour is Snowden explaining his position and his history. Snowden is able to go show his history. Sometimes that can be more effective. You can tell us that the government is spying on all of us. Or you can show us. Like there is one scene where they are spying on one of those Middle Eastern ladies who is normally all covered up, but then she goes into the privacy of her own home and starts undressing. Meanwhile the NSA dude with Snowden starts enjoying the free peep show, saying "I wonder what she looked like under that," before Snowden gets him to rightfully turn it off. Did the NSA actually do stuff like that? I don't know. But the idea that they could is a bit disturbing and effectively gets across the point that this idea of spying on us is bad. Thus you can understand why Snowden started to become extremely paranoid about his privacy and why he decided to do what he did. Although I will also say that when it comes to this showing instead of telling, despite it being fairly effective, it was a bit of a marathon. This movie is 134 minutes long and they literally should've shaved about 30 minutes off of that.

Of course I can't let you go without commending the cast of this movie. If Oscars were given based off how well an actor pulled off a certain role rather than how much they cried, screamed, or did daring things, then Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves an Oscar for this role because he looked like, sounded like, and acted like Edward Snowden. He was perfect. And Shailene Woodley was equally as perfect as Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. I don't think Shailene has hit Kristen Stewart level in terms of how much she is mocked for her role in those Divergent abominations... I mean movies. But like Kristen Stewart, she has done some dang good work in the smaller, independent level that she doesn't get enough credit for when it comes the general public's view of her. And by dang does she show her prowess in this film. And they we have our side characters. Zachary Quinto is Glenn Greenwald, Tom Wilkinson is Ewen MacAskill and Melissa Leo is Laura Poitras. You go watch Citizenfour and then you watch Snowden and you will be seeing déjà vu with how these three look and sound. Then on top of that you have other side characters like Nicholas Cage, Rhys Ifans, and Scott Eastwood who are also solid in their side roles. From top to bottom, this cast was perfect.

No, this isn't a bad movie. Everyone in the cast is perfect. And the movie does an effective job in showing us why Snowden became so paranoid and why he did what he did. But at the same time, if they had to make a movie of these events, it would've been more effective in my opinion if they would've taken an objective look at the situation by presenting both sides of the argument and letting the audience choose which stance to take. But it doesn't do that. It paints a black and white picture that Snowden is a national hero who did nothing wrong and is only trying to smear a corrupt government. I'm not saying I don't like that angle because I disagree. In fact, I'm not giving you my opinion here, so don't assume. I'm just saying an objective look at this would've been more interesting. And all that is me judging the cinematic qualities of the movie only. As I explained in the first half of this review, this is movie is essentially a useless, second-hand retread of something better. Remake is probably the wrong word, but that's what it feels like. It feels like a sub-par remake of a movie that just barely came out a couple of years ago. Thus my recommendation is that you skip this one and go see Citizenfour instead. My grade for Snowden is a 6/10.

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