By Nima Nayeri
All politics aside, Edward Snowden’s story is tailor-made for the likes of director Oliver Stone and his conspiracy-theory lens.
While it’s well acted and the director puts several welcome thriller touches on the inherently dull computer world, Snowden just doesn’t have the signature audacity or engrossing nature that Stone has infused in his more high-profile and controversial projects (Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers).
Snowden’s a polarizing whistleblower portrayed as an American hero here, but in too pedestrian a fashion for such a hot-button topic. It takes a little time to get used to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s robotic monotone as Snowden, whose tale is framed by the infamous 2013 leaking of classified government documents with the help of The Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (an ultra-intense Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), as well as documentary filmmaker Laura Poitra's (Melissa Leo).
Anybody who’s watched the nightly news in the past few years knows what happens next, and Snowden doesn’t add anything truly special to the infamous narrative. Stone ratchets up the paranoia with Snowden worrying about people coming after him. His free-spirited, pole-dancing girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and the increasing tension of events leads to him sneaking out the classified files that would ultimately get him in hot water with the federales.
In the end, though, the most memorable aspect of the film is arguably Snowden's method of releasing the classified documents to the press.
Dealing with such a controversial figure and story, Stone keeps the movie from getting overly political. But the one aspect that most undermines Snowden is there’s a better version of it; the drama just isn’t nearly as gripping as Poitra’s’ 2014 Oscar-winning documentary Citizen Four that featured Snowden.
Overall, Snowden is worth viewing for its entertainment value, but the film in no way represents Oliver Stone's most poignant work.