Snowden ***

Though not perfect, this is still an important and thoughtful film.

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Edward Snowden exploded onto our media outlets three years ago and has remained in the public conscience since, both in fame and infamy. Despite this, I was only familiar with his name and vaguely knowledgeable of his actions; he was the guy who leaked government information. Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” does a good a job of rectifying my ignorance, and it makes a great case for why this ignorance should be rectified. Still, “Snowden” is a good, not great movie. It’s just a little too dull in stretches. But it does entertain in fits and starts, and when it does, it is a lively, informative film well worth the price of admission.

While hiding out in a Hong Kong hotel room, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) relays his top secret information to reporters from “The Guardian” newspaper (Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson) and narrates his life story to a documentary filmmaker (Melissa Leo). The film, then, flashes back to his life 10 years prior, covering his time working in different, high priority roles for the CIA, his relationship with the love of his life, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), his growing distrust of the government, and his eventual whistleblowing that leaves him hiding out in Hong Kong.

With Oliver Stone attached, I expected the worst. With his reputation for paranoia and belief in government conspiracies, I was afraid “Snowden” would be a depressing rant that would try to frighten me into throwing out all of my electronic gadgets while wearing a hat made of aluminum foil, muttering about how “they” are watching. And while I will definitely place a Band-Aid over my webcam from now on and make sure to change my passwords more often, I was pleasantly surprised how human the movie turned out to be and by its severe lack of hysteria.

The movie doesn’t posit our government as some kind of evil “Big Brother” that’s out to get us. Rather it peaks behind a curtain of secrecy to show us people in power that are doing wrong, but for understandable reasons. They see what our country is up against, and what they see is truly frightening, and they react in extreme ways. Their intentions are actually good, but as the old saying goes: the road to hell is paved in good intentions.

The movie details how these good intentions are corrupted over time and exacerbated by “yes” men who are “only following orders,” said by one of Snowden’s superiors (Scott Eastwood) late in the film, or selfish men who will do anything to advance their careers, embodied by a slimy CIA agent (Timothy Olyphant), and by workers low on the totem pole who give in to group think, such as Snowden’s cohorts toiling away on their computers in underground bunkers. These details are interesting and thought compelling. Our government isn’t evil, the film says, but complacency in the face of wrongdoing allows evil to grow.

But the movie still isn’t a slam-dunk. The opening is engaging, as it follows a clever Snowden as he rises through the ranks of the CIA. The closing too is powerful and even exciting as Snowden sneaks the information out of the CIA and deals with the fallout. The middle, though, has a few too many dull stretches.

Joseph-Gordon Levitt is a very good actor, but he never quite finds a way to make Snowden interesting for over two hours. And as he is the center of the movie and in every scene, the movie drags as a result. Also, his affectation of a deep voice is a little distracting, and it even becomes silly when the film (warning! the following isn’t really a spoiler, but it does reveal a surprise) replaces Levitt with the real Snowden in the middle of a scene, which reveals that he does not even have a deep voice!

Add to that some thinly drawn characters that are only memorable because of the recognizable actors playing them (“The Guardian” reporters and just about anybody in the initial Hong Kong scenes) and some interminable arguments between Snowden and Mills, and you have a movie that doesn’t quite come together as a complete whole.

Still, “Snowden” is a good movie, and an important one. Too often we seek out movies only for entertainment. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good to see something that, in it’s best moments, is entertaining, informative, and thought provoking. And while the film does force us to confront some painful truths and deal with issues that may be uncomfortable, its mere existence gives us hope. We live in a country where a movie like this can be made and released into over 2,000 theaters without intervention or complaint. That counts for something.

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