If you were sitting in a doctors office or any sort of waiting room in 2013 you know who Edward Snowden is. If somehow you avoided the twenty-four hour news cycle, first off congratulations for that feat, second you have a lot of catching up to do. Snowden, who is still living in exile already had the excellent “Citizenfour” documentary tell his tale, but you knew another would come along to tell it another way. A feature film filled with a more dramatized version of real life events is usually called for, especially for a story as grand as this one.
Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a pretty smart guy, who has mad skills with a computer. Having not finished High School, Snowden was a self-made man, and it got him where he wanted to be. In a position where he can serve his country, which is at first is in the Army. After an accident, he has to find another way to do that, which leads him to the C.I.A. After showing some promising skills that lead him to being hired, it is only after getting hired that he meets Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) and they start dating. While Snowden’s sense of duty to country is never in doubt, his sense of right and wrong starts to come into play. So important is his moral obligations, it actually causes him to resign from the C.I.A. after they did something he didn’t agree with. Eventually like with most things you excel at, Snowden finds his way back in the intelligence world. It is this return when he can’t unsee what he has seen, and decides that the people should know, so they can make their own decisions about what is going on. How Snowden chooses to release the information is chronicled really well in “Citizenfour”, and it opens up the world’s eyes to what is happening.
Twenty years ago there wouldn’t be anyone else you would want to do this film other then Oliver Stone. The man behind classic films like ,“Platoon”, “JFK” and “Wall Street”, had the perfect pedigree. Stone, who co wrote the script with Kieran Fitzgerald, might have been the perfect guy twenty years ago, but not so much anymore. Stone though already had his back against the wall by having to follow “Citizenfour”, a documentary that might be one of the best in the last ten years. Having so much already out there, you knew there was going to be a different path taken to tell this story. While “Snowden” adds a more human element to the story, the way the information is told is via the same manor as the documentary. The problem is the information is the story, and while showing his relationship with Lindsay is ok, with so much coming at you, it’s really not important in the whole scheme of things. Stone wanted something to ground the story, and he uses the relationship of Snowden and Lindsay to do that. What you end up getting though is a tale with no teeth, and very little bark, as it feels diluted. This story is one of the more important ones of the last twenty years and it deserved better. Luckily it did get what it deserved with “Citizenfour.” So stay home and find that version, because while “Snowden” ends up being ok, how can you settle with ok, when you know greatness already exists out there.