‘Snowden’ Movie Review

Snowden Cast Photo
Melissa Leo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Wilkinson, and Zachary Quinto in ‘Snowden’ (Photo Credit: Jürgen Olczyk / Open Road Films)

“My name is Edward Joseph Snowden,” says Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) into the camera of a documentary crew set to record the story of how and why he hacked and leaked thousands of classified NSA documents involving the U.S. government spying on the American public in the dramatic film, Snowden.

When the film begins, Snowden is in the military but is deemed physically unfit to serve after breaking his leg. Upset but still determined to find a way to be useful to his country, Snowden applies to join the CIA. He’s hired after a set of grueling interviews and brought into the training program by Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). There Snowden excels and impresses his teachers and hire-ups. Soon Ed is working assignments for the CIA alongside Agent Geneva (Timothy Olyphant). When Snowden learns about and participates in the sneaky and underhanded ways the CIA gets a person to become an asset, it doesn’t sit well with him and he decides to leave the CIA and go work for the NSA instead.

While working at the NSA, Snowden makes a new friend in one of his co-workers and discovers that the agency has the technology and ability to spy on American citizens across the entire country and around the world. Once again Snowden struggles morally and ethically with the amount of power the government, and those in charge behind the scenes, seem to have over invading lives. His career and growing paranoia also takes a serious toll on his relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).

After quitting both the CIA and the NSA, Snowden goes back to work as a consultant for the NSA hoping and believing that with the changes in Washington – Obama is now President – things will have gotten better. But he quickly discovers while being stationed in Hawaii that it’s actually gotten worse. Finally, not being able to deal with the paranoia he feels and fed up with all the illegal spying, Snowden commits treason by finding a way to steal the classified documents and leaking them to the press so the American public will know what its government is doing. Snowden than flees the States, becoming a fugitive.

Directed by Oliver Stone and based on a compelling true story, Snowden should be an engaging, powerful, and suspenseful film but instead is a slow, tedious, and melodramatic bore. Stone gets all the details on how the government built computers and machines to be able to spy on people correct. but the film’s systematic approach and plodding pace eliminates any sense of urgency and tension from the movie.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a good job of capturing Snowden’s unique speech pattern and tone as well as his body posture, but his portrayal ends up coming across more like a caricature of the man instead of a real performance. In the scenes in his hotel room in Hong Kong where his paranoia of the government listening in or finding him is supposed to be running high, Gordon-Levitt as Snowden seems to be almost indifferent to telling his story to the press and the documentary filmmaker. Sadly, this is not one of Gordon-Levitt’s stronger performances and nowhere near his memorable and impressive performances in films including The Lookout, Looper, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and 50/50.

Shailene Woodley is horribly miscast as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay. She has zero chemistry with Gordon-Levitt and seems to have no other purpose than to try to get Snowden to become a liberal politically while asking the same question over and over again…”Are they listening to us? Who might be watching us?” Even the early scenes where Ed and Lindsay meet and begin dating feel incredibly forced and unrealistic.

With ponderous pacing, one-dimensional characters, zero tension, and a portrayal that’s more mimicry than a real performance by Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is a tiresome and forgettable film that should be skipped in favor of watching the Snowden documentary.


MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity

Running Time: 134 minutes

Release Date: September 16, 2016