Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley
3 (out of 5) Globes
Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” may be so current that the paint on its story has yet to dry. But make no mistake: It’s old school. It’s a classic Great Man biopic, the kind that Hollywood has been making since its birth, in which real life becomes myth. It’s corny and simplistic. Its protagonist, one Edward Snowden, is flawed but always honorable — the type who has to go from principled nobody to a bona fide national hero. And that right there is what’s sneakily subversive about Stone’s old fashioned, even moth-ridden approach: It uses a cinematic language, one usually reserved for decorated soldiers and civil rights advocates, for a man currently exiled from his country — and for the very act the movie portrays as lionhearted. It’s a myth to counter another myth.
As such, “Snowden” is the spiritual brother of “Born on the Fourth of July.” In that film, Stone took the imagery of Norman Rockwell Americana only to poison it. Scenes of July 4 parades, of fireworks, of squeaky clean schools and proms — all were shown to be forms of programming that caused Tom Cruise’s Ron Kovic to sign up for Vietnam and wind up in a wheelchair. The similarities are numerous: Stone’s version of Snowden — played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in a dinner party impersonation that quickly starts to feel natural — also enlists in the army, also gets wounded in the legs. His injury, though, comes early and isn’t permanent. Instead of fighting in Iraq, he winds up waging his battles over computers, becoming a rock star at the CIA and later the NSA.
The rest is history, through which “Snowden” dutifully plods. The most nail-biting part of his story — his sneaking off to a high-end Tokyo hotel and releasing untold classified intel, then sneaking off again — is regulated to a framing device. That makes sense: It’d be hard to top “Citizenfour,” the doc with killer footage of the real deal as it was happening. But Stone’s version isn’t out to thrill us. It’s there to convince us, namely, that Snowden was a martyr for freedom — that his act of treason was the only sane response to a system out of control.