Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Snowden

The final week of the year features the release of "Snowden," a worthwhile effort from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Oliver Stone.

Traitor or Patriot? That’s usually the crux of the discussion surrounding former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Most people know what he did, but aren’t aware of how he got to the point where he leaked classified government documents to the press that showed that the NSA is basically spying on everyone, all the time.

Director Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” attempts to answer that question by showing us the man behind the leak. Far from being some kind of malcontent cyber-hacker, we see how Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is very patriotic and takes pride in serving his country.

We first meet Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel in 2013. He meets with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), columnist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and UK’s The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) to tell his story. This is the kicking off point to flashbacks that show Snowden washing out of Army special forces due to broken legs, joining the intelligence community under the mentorship of Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans) and Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage), his time in the CIA and NSA, and his relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).

During these flashbacks, a picture starts to take shape. It’s one of a young man who wanted to serve his country. He believed in honor, duty, and loyalty above all things. In one scene after he first met Lindsay, the two walk amongst a group of anti-Bush protestors. She agrees with the protestors, but he doesn’t—what they’re doing seems un-patriotic to him.

Then things start to happen. One incident in particular involving a shady CIA agent in Geneva (Timothy Olyphant) really rubs Snowden the wrong way, and he resigns soon after. From there, he gets deeper into intelligence and learns about government programs to watch everyone around the clock. He starts putting masking tape over the camera in his computer because he knows that those can be activated to spy on a room.

Over the course of “Snowden,” we see him go from patriotic to paranoid, then back to patriotic again. However, by the time he arrives back to patriotic, his views on the United States and what it’s doing have changed. Therefore, his views on what it means to be a patriot have changed. He’s no longer content to go along with the government while the privacy rights of millions of citizens are violated. Snowden knows the trouble he’ll get into for revealing government secrets, but his sense of duty to country has shifted from protecting its government to protecting its people—where it belongs—and he knows exposing this corrupt program is the right thing to do.

Oliver Stone is a great director for this story because he and Snowden are like peas in a pod. Both served their country (Stone in Vietnam) and both consider themselves patriots not because they go along with the status quo, but because they challenge it. The reason they challenge it is not to be rabble rousers or create trouble, but to get to the truth, and from that truth there will be, like the Pledge of Allegiance says, justice for all.

I can back this all up with quotes by everyone from Benjamin Franklin (“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”) to John F. Kennedy ("The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society"), but there’s no need. “Snowden” makes a powerful, patriotic statement all on its own. Buy it on Amazon: Snowden (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD).

More New Releases: “When the Bough Breaks,” about a surrogate mother who becomes obsessed with the soon-to-be father, starring Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall; “Dog Eat Dog,” about three former convicts who must adapt to civilian life under the looming shadow of California's "three strikes" law, starring Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Matthew Cook; “In a Valley of Violence,” western revenge story starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta; and “American Honey,” coming of age road movie about a teenage girl named Star who joins a traveling magazine sales crew, starring Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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