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Movie Review: Stone’s ‘Snowden’ portrayed as hero

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Giovanna Z. Rinaldo
Sports Editor

When it comes to Edward Snowden, there is hardly a middle ground. He is either a traitor who compromised national security and ran away, or a patriot not afraid of consequences in the name of public service.

While there is little indifference to the man, Oliver Stone’s “Snowden,” played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, makes room for both enjoyment and dissatisfaction to coexist.

The chronology of how the 29-year-old went from former CIA government employee to leaking classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013 is suspenseful and thought-provoking on many levels: political, moral and ethical.

Although the basic facts of the story are known, anticipation gradually builds up with every new discovery Snowden makes regarding mass surveillance by the U.S. government of its own citizens. The audience is constantly forced to address where their moral compass points, and what they would do in Snowden’s shoes.

The more access Snowden gets to classified information, the more uncomfortable it is. The awareness of uncovering government secrets slowly makes you uneasy, and the weight on his shoulders can temporarily be felt on your own. “I was not supposed to know that,” you think to yourself.

However difficult it is to follow the line of technical terms, technological concepts and narrative structure of a world that is foreign to most people, the movie does a good job of taking you by the hand through the sequence of events – even if, at times, too superficially.

Stone sometimes failed to exploit the elements at his disposal in the name of making the case for Snowden’s reputation. Most people already have a preconceived opinion of the whistleblower and his actions, so Stone could have taken the risk to make Snowden less plain and simply heroic.

There are too many short-cuts to the story’s narrative, which successfully gets the point across but fails to instigate and is oversimplified at times.

When Snowden decides to go forward with the information he uncovered – the climax of the narrative – it just happens. The anticipation to the most delicate and important moment of the story, which is slowly building up from the start, is thrown at you in order to give the movie closure.

Possibly among the most impressive aspects is Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of Snowden, which leaves nothing to question. Gordon-Levitt mimicked the smallest twists and turns, the voice and way he speaks, until he became Snowden. His acting comes natural, genuine and is nothing short of impressive.

This is the main element of persuasion that quickly draws the audience in and makes them a participant to the story, especially when Snowden is recluse in a hotel room across the globe with only two other people he trusts – a journalist and a filmmaker.

In contrast, secondary characters are portrayed in too much of a caricature form, not having much of a role but to serve the building of Snowden’s character. They are slightly predictable, shallow and they each only serve their purpose and nothing beyond that.

Different from a purely factual documentary, “Snowden” is an in-depth illustration on a more personal note of how a quiet, prodigy computer professional became the topic of international conflicts and risked everything for a cause.

It is hard bringing to life a story that is so controversial, multilayered and intertwined with politics, public interest, national and international laws, among other themes. In a little over two hours Stone’s “Snowden,” with its ups and downs, provides a rather complete narrative, fascinating enough to keep the audience hooked and still hungry for more.

You might not end up completely blown away, but it is unlikely that you will be disappointed – unless you are from the NSA, if they take the time to watch it.

Oh – yes, they are watching.

Giovanna Z. Rinaldo can be reached at or on Twitter @giozrinaldo.

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