Oliver Stone's "Snowden" is a technically stunning but politically one-sided biopic
Oliver Stone is known for his ‘bad guys on the run’ type of films. In Natural Born Killers we had Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as two murderous lovers escaping not just the authorities, but themselves. Savages saw three semi-innocent characters caught up in a drug feud that turns vicious. Bud Fox finds himself running from his own family in cult economy drama Wall Street, and Billy Hayes (masterfully played by Brad Davis), is caught with pot in Istanbul in the ’78 classic Midnight Express.
In Snowden, Stone has revitalised this recurring theme of his by giving us his most humane film to date. Unlike the previous characters, Edward James Snowden is given the benefit of the doubt. Not only is he realised in a way that is touching, but in a way that adds a sort of ‘good guy doing bad to give to the poor’ Robin Hood type of thing. It becomes very clear with the way he is painted and ultimately the position the audience is placed in that Snowden is not the bad guy here, he just works for them.
Played by personal teen crush Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Edward Snowden is a computer genius/data analyst specialist. Nothing else, nothing more. He is portrayed as a morally correct man who just loves his country and wants to lead a simple life. Having been dubbed both a hero and a traitor since he leaked an estimated 2million international files, Stone has chosen the hero side of Snowden to be the one the masses are seeing. However, the academy award winning director has chosen a more subtle path compared to any extravagant bias a là Natural Born Killers.
By including humanising factors like his girlfriend, his real-life illness epilepsy and his close relationships with colleagues, we are steered into seeing a side of the man, who now lives in hiding in Moscow from extradition, as someone who just wanted to expose the bad and help the good. From the very beginning, we sympathise with Snowden. In an extremely cringe-worthy moment, he breaks his legs trying to serve in the army. This "good guy soldier" image is painted from the very beginning, showing a very patriotic and determined man. We then follow him on a progressive journey as he works his way up in the ranks of computers and eventually the government as he is eventually employed by companies such as the CIA and the NSA. It is then that we are introduced to the real bad guys.
The greatest achievement stone has had within this dazzling biopic is his balancing of the two extremes; the good and the bad. Sometimes a very thin line, something our protagonist is constantly faced with. The bad is not-so-subtle as it is passed onto the government officials. The usual scapegoat for all conspiracy theories, stone’s film adds logical reasoning behind whispers as he paints the people working for the American government as the very people who are deliberately spying on their own every-day citizens.
It is a very scary film. Not in the usual Eli Roth horror way, but more so in the fact that it is very real. By making Snowden out to be so innocent it only highlights the point that what the government is doing is really, really bad. Upon seeing the film, you are given Band-Aids, which is the tactical device that Snowden uses in the film in order to cover up any laptop or phone cameras he has. My vote for scariest sex scene in 2016 goes straight to Mr Stone, as an ‘oh no’ moment carefully plays out for the young couple of Snowden and his girlfriend, poignantly played by The Descendant’s Shailene Woodley.
Snowden is a remarkable film. Technically it is stunning. Long shots and wide angles highlight the beauty that can be the American countryside. What Stone lacks in sometimes a slow-moving plot, he makes up for in character development that makes you thank him for the 2 plus hours he gives in order for you to get a grip on some of the technical jargon that is produced when watching a film with a plot focused around computers. However, any audience member going into the film hoping to see Snowden exposed for the traitor they think he is, will be gravely disappointed. In this film, he is painted as the ultimate American hero: patriotic, brave, a loyal boyfriend and extremely dedicated to his job.
This is Stone’s biggest fault within this otherwise great film. He has completely forgone any kind of third dimension for Levitt’s character, making his audiences' minds up before the credits roll. Personally, I was fine with the bias. I enjoyed only having to focus on a one-sided character, as all my attention was focused on understanding the sometimes impossible “technology talk” that surrounds the clever dialogue. But for someone who is wanting more out of the portrayal of a controversial figure, I am sorry to disappoint you, but you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
This wonderfully directed film is an incredibly biased and one sided view at the rise and (some would argue) fall, of Edward Snowden’s career. However, for someone like me, a reluctant outsider of the world of technology, this kind of good guy getting back at the bad tale is exactly what my moral subconscious needs. So well done Mr Stone, you have painted Snowden as a complete and utter hero and to be honest, you have pulled it off splendidly. Kudos.