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)

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New Releases for the Week of September 16, 2016


blair-witchBLAIR WITCH

(Lionsgate) James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry. Directed by Adam Wingard

A group of college student filmmakers go into the Black Hills woods of Maryland  – and we all know that nothing good ever comes of student filmmakers going into the woods – to seek out information about the disappearance of the sister of one of their number. Accompanied by a couple of local guides, the group sets out to camp out in the forest. When night falls, however, they discover a local legend may be all too real – and that the Blair Witch may be far more powerful and evil than they could have possibly imagined.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language, terror and some disturbing images)

Bridget Jones’s Baby

(Universal) Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent. The indefatigable Bridget Jones returns, a little bit older perhaps but no wiser. She has broken up with Mark Darcy and at 40-something finds herself single again. After a wild night of ex sex, she hooks up with a spirited American who may be just the tonic that she needs. However, she also finds herself pregnant and the father could be her new beau – or her ex.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language, sex references and some nudity)

The Good Neighbor

(Vertical) James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist, Laura Innes. In a quiet neighborhood, a couple of high school students who fancy themselves practical jokers decide to take on the curmudgeonly neighbor across the street. They rig up his house so that it appears to be haunted, install some closed circuit cameras and wait for the hilarity to ensue. Suffice to say that their neighbor doesn’t take kindly to these events and things don’t go the way the funny guys think it’s going to.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Mr. Church

(Cinelou) Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone, Xavier Samuel. A single mom battling breast cancer and her precocious daughter receive an unusual visitor – a man claiming to have been paid to be their cook for the next six months. Six months become much longer as what had been always planned to be a temporary arrangement becomes a lifelong friendship.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements)

Nick Cave: One More Time with Feeling

(Picturehouse) Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, The Bad Seeds. The creative process of one of the most acclaimed and highly regarded cult performers in rock and roll, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, comes to light as the band records their latest album – The Skeleton Tree – in the wake of an unthinkable personal tragedy for Cave.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (one showing only: Monday 9/19 at 9:30pm)
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

The People vs. Fritz Bauer

(Cohen Media Group) Burghart Klauẞner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Schenk, Sebastian Blomberg.  The account of the capture and execution of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann has always been the story of the Israeli Mossad, but it came to light recently that a West German attorney general by the name of Fritz Bauer had much more to do with it than previously known. Bauer, frustrated at his government’s reluctance to pursue people like Eichmann and at the roadblocks thrown up by Nazi sympathizers in powerful government positions, eventually supplied the whereabouts of Eichmann to Mossad. The review of this film will be up shortly.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some disturbing images and brief strong language)

Snowden

(Open Road) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto. Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower who brought to the attention of the world the surveillance tactics of the NSA on American citizens who were accused of no crime. There are many who think he’s a hero but just as many if not more who think he’s a traitor. Currently living in exile in Russia, Snowden’s tale is a controversial one and who better to bring it to the big screen than Oliver Stone, no stranger to controversy himself?

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality/nudity)

A Tale of Love and Darkness

(Focus World) Natalie Portman, Amir Tessler, Shira Haas, Makram Khoury. Israeli writer Amos Oz recalls his youth and his relationship with his mother in the early years of the state of Israel. The stories he tells become the stories he lives. Portman also directed the film.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Mall

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and some disturbing violent images)