3/10/2016 | Tom Van Kalken

Oliver Stone’s 20th directorial endeavour, Snowden, which he co-writes along with Kieran Fitzgerald (The Horseman), comes across as a bland, paint-by-numbers biopic of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. With a film as insightful as Citzenfour available to those interested in the Snowden saga, all the film brings to light is some insight into the whistleblowers personal life which, at the end of the day, isn’t all that interesting. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a very convincing Snowden, flashing back through his life as he awaits his fate in a Hong Kong hotel room. Between handing over classified information to 

a team of investigative reporters from the Gaurdian, and describing the intricacies of these technologically advanced computer programs Gordon-Levitt embodies all of the tics and traits of the Snowden we have come to know from media appearances. For their small part in the film, the roles of reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, played by Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson respectively, were well executed, along with Melissa Leo as filmmaker Laura Poitras. 

Although this framing device seems clumsy at times it does an adequate job of moving the story along; from his military dismissal in 2004 all the way up to his resignation from the NSA. During these flash backs the audience is subjected to a myriad of stale performances from Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s longtime girlfriend, Rhys Ifans as his overbearing boss and Nicolas Cage as the sympathetic mentor.

For those hoping that the contemporary nature of this topic would bring Stone out of his decade long stupor, you may have to keep on waiting. At times, it feels as though Stone is simply recreating moments from Poitras's Oscar-winning documentary, Citizenfour with more heart-pumping music and Hollywood suspense. 


The film is not a complete failure as Gordon-Levitt’s performance as the former NSA agent is a great piece of character acting. There is also nice poetic symmetry between early lines from Woodley’s Lindsay Mills and the final lines from Snowden himself. At times like this, it is easy to see and understand the character arc of Snowden, admittedly well done in the screenplay.  But that is probably the only thing Kieran Fitzgerald does well. From underwritten, cardboard cut-out supporting characters, to an all-too-ridiculous three character

conspiracy to break the information out of the NSA, the story plods along at a snails pace.

Snowden is an effective piece of work when it comes to driving home it’s political message. It’s just not enough to justify the clunky structure and lengthy playtime.


If you are looking for great character acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, look no further. But if you are looking for Stone back on form, or an effective and thrilling tale about Edward Snowden then don’t waste your time; go watch CitizenFour again