To some, Edward Snowden is a menace, a man who endangered the security of the USA. To others, he is an unsung hero, somebody who sacrificed his career in order to tell the truth about the ways in which the CIA was covertly spying on everyday citizens. (Trust me, this film will almost certainly have you sticking a plaster over the camera on your laptop). It’s perhaps no great surprise to learn that Oliver Stone, one of America’s most infamous liberals, belongs firmly in the latter category; and as portrayed by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Snowden is a decent man, a gifted computer nerd who loves his country, and becomes increasingly dismayed by the lengths that the organisation he works for is prepared to go to in order to ‘preserve the nation’s security.’
Stone has been off form for some years now. It’s a very long time since he dazzled us with the likes of Salvador and JFK – and the unmitigated disaster that was Alexander the Great is perhaps best brushed under the Persian carpet. Here, he’s on much more confident form, ably assisted by a measured central performance by Gordon-Levitt and a nicely Machiavellian turn from Rhys Ifans as shady wheeler-dealer, Corbin O Brian. The likes of Nicholas Cage and Timothy Olyphant pop up in cameo roles, while Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo and Zachary Quinto portray the trio of journalists who help Snowden break the story that sends him into exile.
It’s a prescient story and an important one. Stone manages to pull off an inspired trick by having the real Edward Snowden portray himself in the film’s closing section. While this may not be up there with his finest efforts, this is definitely Stone’s best work in quite a while.
Here’s hoping that the powers that be will eventually be shamed into giving Edward Snowden the pardon he so evidently deserves.