-A politically charged story is stripped of all charisma and tension, leaving behind an overly dramatized, never ending slog.

Taking a politically motivated story that pulls at the fabric of the left/right paradigm is right up the alley of long-time director Oliver Stone, an artist who has always tried to promote his ideals through well-executed films of social importance. He’s a solid writer, an even better director, and his films are peppered in with some of the defining films since the 80s.

When this project was cleared, I smirked at the thought of Stone taking on the Edward Snowden debacle, a debate about privacy versus security that has penetrated party lines and fractured authoritarian democrats against progressives, and neo-conservative republicans against libertarians. Causing controversy through film has been Stone’s way…Hell, he couldn’t even take on a normal crime thriller (Savages) without it becoming an issue of polygamy.

If you’re not familiar, Snowden (here Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a computer engineer who, after years of top security clearance, felt that it was unfair that the NSA was harboring information about (and spying on) American citizens. What followed was a conspiracy that has left Snowden and his long term girlfriend (Shailene Woodley) in Russia hiding from United States jurisdiction. The film details Snowden’s rise through the ranks and the settling in of his fateful decision. If you think that it may be a little thin on action for a full length movie, you’d be correct.

Despite some okay performances from reputable actors like JGL, Woodley, Melissa Leo, Nic Cage, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, and Tom Wilkinson, Stone’s sense of conspiracy gets the best of him, trying to stretch a two and a half hour movie out of fifteen minutes worth of documentary material. Despite wanting to enjoy this thing, it’s just too slowly paced and too bereft of action to even remotely recommend, just read about it.

The choice is made to make the film a character study of someone who’s just not that interesting. Whether or not you like what Snowden did, it’s hard to argue that he’d be exciting to watch on screen for an entire run-time. A relationship subplot between him and Lindsay Mills is supposed to be the backbone of the film, where if not much is happening in the action, we can rely on their chemistry to get us through. These scenes are completely sappy and really horribly rendered. They’re a disaster, and so is Shailene Woodley in this role.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now more of a smaller name after a run of four years from ’09-’13 where he acted in several great films, does try to give a good performance. There is cadence to his voice and way of walking that shows a physical attention to Snowden, while trying to emulate his persona. It works in its own right, but there’s not enough for Levitt to chew on to make 150 minutes of this character work.

This is a film with good intentions, a eye for camera detail, and clearly an attempt at making a special biopic. The result is a shoddy, and frankly boring, mess.


1.5 stars

Snowden (2016)

Genre: Drama

Director: Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the 4th of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, and Tom Wilkinson

RT Score: 57%