Sunday, November 27, 2016

Movie Review: SNOWDEN

Snowden is the retelling of the real life events that went down between 2004 and 2013, from when the famous Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was first introduced into the army, following him through all of his various assignments in the secret intelligence to when, in 2013, he met the journalists in Hong Kong to whom he revealed the truth of the American government.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley are possibly the two actors I most admire in the cinematic industry right now, so to see them paired up was definitely something that got me excited, even if Oliver Stone, who is a director I've never really connected with, was at the helm. Coming out I was most pleasantly surprised at the solid 135 minute thriller I had just experienced, even though I didn't exactly feel the intellectual stimulation I wished for.

Since I've said it in the intro, there's no sense in playing around it: what makes this film work at its core are the two performances at the center of it and how bright they shine. Levitt and Woodley have the perfect off-balance, quirky chemistry on screen their characters call for. Their relationship touches a very wide range of emotional beats. Admittedly, quite a few that don't belong in this film, but for the majority the film really sells you on their lives and its job is nothing short of great in using this relationship to help ground the film and the characters, making them truly relatable. They have a work life and a home life and seeing their daily lives juxtaposed to the madness Snowden has to experience really helped in making the audience closer to the moral difficulties involved.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Nicholas Cage who is great to see, no cast member really sticks out and some of them actually go into some weird territory where they don't seem to belong to the right film, even though that is probably due to how Stone is directing them, but more on that later. On the positive side Stone demonstrates all of the ability he has accumulated as a director and all of the years of experience are on display. He knows this medium and the way he uses it is simply effortless. That is why he gets away with using techniques and shots that call attention to themselves so much. He knows how to make a sequence fluent, how to keep an audience on the edge of their seats and how to build tension naturally and every edit in this film is a demonstration of that. It's just impossible not to get absorbed by this slick narrative. Moreover the story and the intrigue is naturally fascinating and Stone and his co-writer Fitzgerald manage to guide you through it expertly, making you understand every step of the way and never loosing a clear sense of geography and chronology.

Unfortunately, someone has to tell Oliver Stone that he is making a feature film and not some two hour media product that is to be released in cinemas as a form of his personal propaganda. Now the fact that I am neither American nor a political person makes all of this irrelevant to me and touches me in absolutely no way. Where I take issue with this is from an artistic point of view, firstly because switching to real life footage in a film is something that is terribly difficult to do and works one in a thousand times. It is something that has always bothered me, but the way this film does it is disastrous to the point that it switches to being a documentary. Moreover, the intellectual and political conversation is always one sided and leaves you quite sour. It is certainly a well told story, but it does not have the moral ambiguity that great films leave you with. On the contrary, in one particular scene involving Rhys Ifans and a giant screen, the film just escalates into political conspiracy territory and whilst the events may or may not have happened that way, on a film level it goes 1984 tonally and doesn't resemble what the film should be.

Yet, by all means, Stone crafts an undeniable thrill ride for the whole duration of it and rarely leaves you uninterested which is a feat on its own, adding to that the pleasure of seeing a veteran at work and Snowden turned out to be a worthy effort even with its particular flaws.

James's Score: 7/10

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