Joseph Gordon-Levitt atones for The Walk with his titular performance in Snowden, a film no-one else but Oliver Stone was going to make. I’m glad he did. It’s uneven, ramming brilliant scenes up against turgid ones, but ultimately it’s an overwhelmingly powerful experience. Like all Oliver Stone films, it gets you by the end.
There are three distinct flavours to the film: the scenes dramatizing Snowden’s career in the CIA and NSA, which are fantastic and eye-opening (to say the least!); the scenes in the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden handed over his cache of secrets to Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo, looking too old for the role) and Glenn Greenwood (Zachary Quinto, spot-on) which are essentially re-creations of similar scenes from Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour; and the scenes with Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), which are awful.
I’ve only seen Woodley in a couple of things – The Descendants and The Spectacular Now – and she was good in both of those, so I have to reckon that (a) the script and direction of her scenes in this film are largely to blame and that maybe (b) being in the Allegiant movies (or whatever they are) have dulled her skill. She is woeful here – difficult to watch. But the scenes are also completely unnecessary and slow the story. Snowden’s ultimate decision was bigger than his relationship, and his relationship is far less dramatically interesting than the rest of his life, and is spectacularly bungled here. Stone should re-release the film simply cutting out every scene involving Mills – and I’m not being facetious.
If you’ve seen Citizenfour you may think you don’t need this, but the stuff detailing Snowden’s career is fascinating and, thankfully, the bulk of the film. Overall, I found Snowden deeply satisfying – allowing for the terrible Woodley scenes – and monumentally revealing. It also contains a signature scene in the centre that will go down as a great Oliver Stone mini-essay. Definitely worth seeing despite the flaws.