Snowden

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***1/2

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.

The Walk

thewalkposter*1/2

Don’t see The Walk. See Man On Wire instead. And if you’ve seen Man On Wire, see it again instead of seeing this completely redundant, ham-fisted, embarrassing (and boring!) re-telling of the same story. The Walk is so bad that it’s not only a stain on Man On Wire, it’s also detrimental to that perfect film, because some people may see The Walk at the expense of seeing Man On Wire, and that would just be a horrendous shame – a crime, really.

Man On Wire was a 2008 documentary by James Marsh based on Philippe Petit’s book To Reach The Clouds, about his wire-walking life and particularly and spectacularly his mind-blowing walk between New York’s World Trade Center Towers in 1974. It’s a stunningly realised, exorbitantly entertaining, thrilling, suspenseful, gorgeous and hilarious movie – as I say, a perfect telling of this incredible true story. Petit is a truly unique screen presence, and the things he did to make his walk happen – the planning, the recruitment of “accomplices”, the break-ins and stealth moves and ultimate triumph – were documented enough to grippingly accompany his own extremely vibrant talking head.

Thus, given that the story’s been perfectly told, The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ dramatisation, is totally redundant – but it’s so much worse than that. The film is dreadful: overlong, didactic, simplistic, stultifying and very VERY VERY emphatic. Each scene is played at full volume in a cartoonish style that desperately underlines, bolds, screams and punches every single point and effect Zemeckis is trying to make, as though he’s trying to get through to a roomful of deaf babies. The dialogue is appalling, the music atrocious, and the performances… oy. Joseph Gordan Levitt has obviously spent a lot of time studying Petit, and he certainly captures his “Frenchness” and makes a good attempt at his spirit, but everything is so geared up, so amplified, that at times he’s as much playing Pepe Le Pew as the enigmatic Frenchman.

Zemeckis is often tonally linked to Spielberg, but Spielberg always knows how to dole out his Spielbergian moments, whereas Zemeckis here seems to want every single moment to be a Spielbergian moment. It’s tasteless, crass and annoying. By the time Petit was stepping onto the wire for what should have been a hugely cathartic sequence, I was wondering when I’d get a chance to clip my fingernails. Terrible.