Snowden, Director Oliver Stone. B+. Film Review.
There is a Snowden documentary Citizen Four by Laura Poitras and Snowden the drama (trailer) by Oliver Stone. Stone is a highly skilled director and screenwriter who has won Oscars for his films. He wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald while the documentary stars Edward Snowden in person the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden with Shailene Woodley as Lindsey Mills, his life partner (apparently they never formally married although they have been together for a long time).
The main difference between the documentary and the film is that Stone humanizes Snowden and shows the events that led up to his decision to go public with classified documents that he believes reveal that the government is illegally spying on its own citizens.
As opposed to dumping the data unedited on the internet Snowden chooses to go public through a responsible liberal news organization located in Great Britain named The Guardian that will edit names and other unnecessary but dangerous facts. When writer Glen Greenwald( Zachary Quinto), Laura Poitas documentary film maker (Melissa Leo) and Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) an editor of the Guardian meet with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel named Mira the movie unfolds from their discussions with flash backs in his life that lead up to his disclosure of classified programs designed to spy not just on hostile foreigners but everyone in the world that communicates by cell phone or computer.
The first flash back is of Snowden as a volunteer in training for the Special Forces which he is forced to leave because of a broken leg and other sub fractures. This apparently was to show his patriotism and loyalty to the United State and the principles for which it stands. The picture moves back and forth between the discussions in the hotel and Snowden’s life events. He meets Lindsey Mills on line while he is in the hospital recovering and learns he will be discharged from the Army for medical reasons. She is a young liberal and an amateur photographer. Her life style, which is open and unconcerned about her on line profile as most young people her age are, is juxtaposed by Snowden’s increasing knowledge and concern that the most private details of all American lives is being collected and stored. He is aware of the FISA court’s secret and classified alleged oversight of the NSA and the CIA’s activities in data collection is a thin excuse for constitutionality. He is also aware that the spy agencies get their warrant requests rubber stamped and even this procedure is often by passed.
He applies after discharge to the CIA and despite the fact he doesn’t have a high school diploma he is accepted into computer training by Corbin O’Brien a CIA officer (Rys Ifans) who is impressed with his intelligence and computer skills. O”Brien seeing his potential becomes his mentor and career guide.
Snowden is stationed in Switzerland but is “D-ROGED” by his supervisor for exceeding his authority. This is normally is a career ender but O’Brien has him moved to the field branch where he becomes disillusioned with an operation to compromise an otherwise innocent Pakistani Banker. He resigns his post and returns to the United States with Lindsey. They are happier back in Maryland but Snowden conscious of his superior computer skills feels compelled to use them in what he believes as defending the United States. He comes from a family with a distinguished record of service in the U.S. military. His grandfather, an admiral, was assigned to the Pentagon on 9/11 but unhurt.
Slowly he concludes that the Bush Government is acting unconstitutionally against its own people but with his association with Lindsey and when Obama is elected president he hopes things will be corrected.
However he learns that we are depositing sleeper programs in most of the World’s computer systems which would enable the shut down of their vital infrastructures on command. Also, he sees drone strikes on people talking on cell phones believed to be in the hands of terrorists. He is offended by the casualness of the drone commands activities which take innocent lives along with terrorist lives. He has been assigned to an intelligence contractor in Hawaii and is living a comfortable suburban life with Lindsey but he is aware the government’s activities remained unchanged.
He aware that past complainers or whistleblowers have been demoted or have been isolated in non-essential posts and at least on one occasion a frustrated whistleblower has gone to the press and was then prosecuted under the Espionage Act which only provides for a secret closed trial in which a verdict of guilty is preordained. He suffers from epilepsy and the pressures of his job cause him to stop taking his anti-seizure medicine so he can more effective. It also makes him more susceptible to seizures.
The final straw comes when he sees the Director Of National Intelligence, James Clapper, in testimony before Congress testify under oath that the intelligence agencies are not wittingly collecting data on U.S. citizens within the country which Snowden knows to be incorrect.
He then gets permission to index all spy programs into a program he designs called Heartbeat. He downloads this information on a chip and goes to a pre-planned meeting with the journalists. He hopes to gain asylum in Ecuador but his passport was revoked while en-route in Moscow where he remains today.
This picture is designed to show Snowden as an intelligent, conscientious, normal human rather than a cold, stoic egghead without a life and nothing to lose by his actions is cinematically excellent, the acting is superb and the story is well told. It got lukewarm reviews from the “mainline” critics who pander to the horror, comic book audience which constitutes their readership. However it is an intelligent film well done and deserves better from these critics who should be leading instead of following.
At present Snowden supporters are seeking a pardon or a public trial on lesser charges. However the sentiments of the bureaucracy is summed up at the end by Gen. Michael Hayden former head of the NSA saying “He’ll die in Moscow.”