Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ a Lesson for Our Times

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CHICAGO – The experience of director Oliver Stone, to look underneath the slimy rocks of government secrecy and bureaucracy, produces an excellent history lesson in “Snowden,” an overview of Edward Snowden, a whistleblower against the government who is still in exile.

Stone is clear on his position on Snowden, who essentially told the world that their privacy rights were being violated through government access into their technology, he is a patriot. How he became that way is fascinating, with the complexities of spying on chilling display. Get your band-aids or masking tape out and tape that camera hole on your computer, or maybe you’re next on the CIA/NSA “candid camera.” That is what the film warns, and again Oliver Stone is the agent provocateur who leads the way to teaching us something through his role, as he puts it, as a dramatist.

The story is told in flashback. Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a high rising tech achiever in government surveillance. After getting an injury discharge in Army special services, he works his way up through the CIA and NSA as a computer gunslinger. By his side is his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), as they move from assignment to assignment.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the Title Character in ‘Snowden’
Photo credit: Open Road Films (II)

He is telling this story in a hotel room in Hong Kong, as his observations in these assignments allow his to realize that no citizen of the U.S. has privacy rights in the New World Order. A documentary maker, Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and two journalists of the newspaper The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) will tell the world.

Yes, Stone is a dramatist, and the point of view in the film should be absorbed in that way. If you have an opinion on who Edward Snowden is, at least the drama will provide a grounding for Stone’s side of the equation. The result of Snowden’s exposure of what our government does in secret – rivaling the worst we can think of – has influenced legislation to shut down elements of the operation. Whether that shutdown is true or not is up for debate, but it was Snowden’s actions that facilitated the debate. As a moral soldier, he was on the front line.

Oliver Stone’s style has evolved as well, and the palette of the film allows for a certain dreaminess to Snowden’s situation, and subsequent paranoia. What is interesting is that while the film is shown in flashback, the “present day” is now. Snowden is still “serving his sentence,” protected by a long-time enemy of the United States (Mother Russia). His adventure through Stone’s filter contains intense absurdities and desperation. And basically that desperation is about creating justifications for spying, plus feeding the military and intelligence beast who needs more. Stone’s kaleidoscopic style perfectly illustrates the rabbit hole of this reality – protection also means cover thy butt and keep thy job.

Essentially we are all targets on a rifle range, where eradication is possible every day. We’ve allowed the government to exploit that basic fear by believing that an institution can create a wall of protection. Call it the Patriot Act, call it an executive order or let the Supreme Court judge rule by their special interests. Bit-by-bit, the chipping away of privacy is warranted through the meme of “protecting us.” Bureaucracy is absurdly intense within this contradiction, as Stone keeps exposing through Snowden’s story.

Shailene Woodley is Lindsay Mills in ‘Snowden’
Photo credit: Open Road Films (II)

The film’s relationship overview of Snowden and Lindsay Mills, which Stone asserted was essential to the narrative (he appeared live on Wednesday after the screening in a panel with Gordon-Levitt, Woodley and a live-in-exile Edward Snowden), was actually the weakest part of the film. While living with a type of person like Snowden would be challenging, there was nothing surprising in any of their couple confrontations or revelations – but the good news is that Shailene Woodley generated some authenticity in that girlfriend role.

Curious about the story of Snowden? Curious about the issues his revelations exposed? Then the film is a must see. Remember it is Oliver Stone, now 70 years old, who keeps positioning his truth to power, distilling complex issues and reminding us of what American principles really are.

”Snowden” opened everywhere on September 16th. Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Edward Snowden, Snowden, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifan, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Nicholas Cage. Screenplay adapted by Oliver Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald. Directed by Oliver Stone. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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