Snowden


Edward Snowden in the military.

Edward Snowden in the military.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Open Road) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Shailene Woodley, Nicolas Cage, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Eastwood, Ben Chaplin, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Nicholas Rowe, Bhasker Patel, Patrick Joseph Bymes, Christy Meyer, Robert Firth, Edward Snowden. Directed by Oliver Stone

 

Edward Snowden remains one of the most controversial figures of our time. There are those who label him a hero while others loathe him as a traitor. He polarizes opinion like nobody else and there are those on both sides of the political aisle that would like to see him answer for his crimes of revealing the NSA’s program of secret surveillance of the American people.

The movie has had a bit of a checkered history; it has been delayed at least twice, once to complete some of the special effects and the other to avoid competition from the major blockbusters. Once the film was released, it got almost zero support from its distributor and came and went from the theaters with little fanfare. Did it deserve that kind of fate?

Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt) is an idealistic young man whose ideals are somewhat conservative. He joins the military, wanting to serve his country but a badly broken leg puts an end to his military service. Instead, he’s recruited by the CIA to write code and serve his country in a different way. His mentor at the CIA, Corbin O’Brien (Ifans) takes a healthy interest in the young man’s career.

He also meets Lindsay Mills (Woodley), a free-spirited college student who supports herself through exotic dancing. The unlikely couple form a close bond and soon have a budding relationship, even though she’s as liberal as they come and he’s a staunch rock-ribbed conservative. He ends up writing programs that help root out terrorists and keep America safe.

Then, as he switches to the more lucrative consulting position at the NSA, he begins to discover some disturbing things. For example, the phone surveillance program he wrote is now targeting everybody and is gathering so much data the NSA has to build huge facilities to store it all. So despite having a beautiful home in Hawaii, a lucrative job and a bright future, he decides to blow the whistle on all this patently illegal material.

He sets up a meet with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Quinto) in Hong Kong. He is clearly paranoid, expecting to be grabbed by NSA agents or the local police at any moment. But once Poitras and Greenwald have a chance to examine the documents, they realize they have the story of the century on their hands. It is just a matter of convincing their editors to allow them to tell it.

How you’re going to receive this film is going to depend an awful lot on how you view Edward Snowden. If you see him as a vile traitor giving state secrets to the media, then you’ll hate this movie. If you think he’s a heroic whistleblower who tried to put the brakes on what was clearly a morally heinous policy, you’re more likely to like this movie. Know going in that Stone is clearly in the latter camp and really doesn’t offer any sort of alternative viewpoint. It seemed to me that most reviews followed the political line; conservative movie critics tended to give it lower scores, more liberal critics higher ones.

So I’m trying to be as objective as I can, but it is difficult to filter out one’s own precepts. Gordon-Levitt I think does a very credible job as Snowden, capturing the cadences of his speech nicely although in a much deeper register than the real Snowden speaks in. Snowden is in many ways not the most charismatic of men so it’s hard to fault Gordon-Levitt for being a bit dry here, but he does seem to capture Snowden’s essential personality.

The rest of the cast is pretty strong – Ifans is virtually unrecognizable – but a lot of the big names are in for what are essentially cameos. Most of the film revolves around Snowden, Lindsey and the journalists. Basically, that’s enough to keep my interest.

I can understand some questioning that the movie makes Snowden to be something of a saint. I don’t think he is and I don’t think that he himself is above questioning by the filmmaker. Poitras, whose documentary on the events here CITIZENFOUR won an Oscar, painted a much more balanced picture of Snowden and in the process, made him more relatable. The Snowden here is a little bit less so because of that and I think it does the film a disservice to go that route.

There are some pretty good moments throughout the movie – Snowden’s initial meeting with the journalists, the events of his smuggling the data out of the NSA facility (a conjectural scene since Snowden has yet to and probably never will reveal how he actually did it) and the end scene when Snowden speaks to the TED conference via satellite – and Gordon-Levitt morphs into the real Edward Snowden, who gets the last word in the film fittingly enough.

It’s a well-made film – you would imagine Stone would at least produce that – but it’s more than just that. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the state of things, whether the price of security is too high or whether liberty trumps that price. We’ve got a lot to think about as a society, much to demand from our leaders. Snowden reminds us that sometimes, doing the right thing isn’t doing the right thing.

REASONS TO GO: Gordon-Levitt really captures the cadences of Snowden’s speech. It has the taut atmosphere of a spy thriller.
REASONS TO STAY: The film lacks any counter-argument to make it seem more fair-minded.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Gordon-Levitt’s second straight film based on an Oscar-winning documentary; the first was The Walk which was the dramatic account of the documentary Man on Wire.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: CITIZENFOUR
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Advertisements

Let Me In


Let Me In
Owen demonstrates the proper way to mess up a Rubik’s Cube to Abby.

(Overture) Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono, Sasha Barrese, Dylan Kenin, Chris Browning, Richie Coster, Dylan Minnette, Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak, Nicolai Dorian, Rebekah Wiggins, Seth Adkins, Brett DelBuono.  Directed by Matt Reeves

As children, we dread the monsters, the ones that emerge from our nightmares and hide in the shadows of our room. As we grow older, we learn there are no monsters, but some children know better. There are all sorts of monsters.

Owen (Smit-McPhee) is a young boy growing up in New Mexico in 1983. He’s 12, small for his age, living in a run-down apartment because his parents are in the middle of a bitter divorce, which has led his mother (Buono) to alcoholism. As many emotionally traumatized boys are, he is fragile, aloof and a little weird. He is bullied at school by Kenny (Minnette), a boy much bigger than he.

To combat his loneliness, he binges on candy (particularly Now and Laters, his favorite) and hides the wrappers in the snow. He hangs out in the deserted playground of the apartment and watches the inhabitants through a telescope; a young fitness freak, a romantic couple. He has a small knife that he sometimes whispers threats to his tormenters with – never face to face. He is alone and terrified.

One night, he sees a young girl and her father move in to the apartment next door. The next day, the windows are all covered with cardboard, which seems a bit unusual but with many daysleepers in the complex, not that unusual. One night, the little girl comes out to visit with him on the playground. Her name is Abby (Moretz) and she can’t be his friend. This she announces in a sad but firm voice.

However, they do become friends. Abby has a thing for puzzles and Owen has a doozy – the Rubik’s cube. A very strong bond develops between the two of them, despite the warning of Abby’s father (Richard Jenkins) to stay away from him. Soon, Owen is finding the strength to stand up to those who are bullying him.

However, Abby is not what she seems. As they grow closer and a series of unexplained murders bring the police in the form of a single, unnamed dogged detective (Koteas), Abby eventually reveals the truth – she needs blood to survive. Yes, that would make her a vampire.

This is based on the acclaimed Swedish film Let the Right One In which in turn was based on a novel of the same name. Many who saw the first film cringed at the idea of a Hollywood version. Cringe no more; this is nearly as good as the original. Reeves captures the feeling of despair and hopelessness that was the backdrop to the first movie, and adds the dread and sense of something really terrible about to happen that was the original’s spice.

It helps that he has two strong juvenile leads to carry the movie. Moretz has made a name for herself with astonishing turns in Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer. She is clearly an actress of immense talent and should have a satisfying career ahead of her. Smit-McPhee, who was also in The Road, captures the innocence and sadness of his character very nicely, retaining the kid aspect in a role that lesser actors would have tried to make more precocious.

The adult actors tend to be moved off to the side, but Jenkins does a noble job in a thankless part, while Koteas continues his strong work of late. However, it is not so much the actors but the atmosphere that will get your attention. The movie is set in the dead of winter and the bleak landscapes and frigid temperatures contribute to the overall mood, which I will admit starts to get to you after awhile.

Still, it’s a great setting for a horror movie and this is a particularly well-written one. There is just enough gore and horrifying violence to satisfy the horror fan, and enough character development to satisfy the cinephile. I happen to fall into both camps, so this movie was like catnip to me. It’s not quite as good as the Swedish version, but it’s so close that the differences are negligible. It’s well worth your Halloween dollar.

REASONS TO GO: A vampire movie that will give Twilight-haters a reason to rejoice. Strong performances from all of the leads.

REASONS TO STAY: The dismal atmosphere can get overly oppressive.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some violent, disturbing scenes and a fair amount of foul language. In addition, there’s an unexpected sexual situation; this is very much for older teens and above only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “vampire” only is spoken once in the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: While some of the moody forest scenes benefit from the big screen, overall I’d say the movie is just as effective on your own television or computer screen.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Day Two of Six Days of Darkness