SNOWDEN review

I know this is probably the second most anticipated movie of the week, but… man, as interesting as the actual story is, and as interesting as the movie sounds on paper, I’m not in anticipation for it. Don’t get me wrong, I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s such a phenomenally talented actor, I still consider ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1994) to be one of my fondest childhood movies. But moving on from that, he’s been in some amazing films like INCEPTION (2010) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), among others. He’s a reliably talented actor and will usually be the saving grace, even if the film itself isn’t that great… which one that would be, I wouldn’t know. But here… man, his voice is distracting. I saw five seconds of an interview with the real Edward Snowden, and his voice is not that deep. So… whose idea was that?!

Before I get too angry with this choice, let’s look at the talent alongside Gordon-Levitt. Playing the role of Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is Shailene Woodley. Now, I won’t lie, Woodley’s career probably needs to lamented, as she’s probably remembered for her unfortunate turn in the Divergent movies. I’ve also heard plenty of people complain about her acting abilities; not being believable. But… I don’t have a problem with her. She did fine in FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014) and had a five year run on the TV show THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER. She must be doing something right to still find work. I mean, she’s not my favorite actress out there, but I don’t think she’s as bad as most have proclaimed her to be. Zachary Quinto. What can be said about this man’s career. From his breakout role in the TV show HEROES, all the way through to the new Star Trek films, he’s had quite an impressive tenure on the big and small screen. Gotta love him. Also featured is Rhys Ifans (NOTTING HILL [1999], THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN [2012], and ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS [2016]), Joely Richardson (PAPA HEMINGWAY IN CUBA [2016], THE PATRIOT [1999], and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO [2011]), Nicholas Cage, who needs no introduction, and many more.

Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Oliver Stone. I’d say one of the more controversial directors out there, always accused of pushing some sort of political agenda. Probably not surprising considering all the political films he’s made over the course of his career, like W. (2008), NIXON (1995), and JFK (1991). I think even his other films have had the same accusations, like PLATOON (1986), but what do I know. I’ve only seen so many of his movies and I don’t affiliate myself with politics, so I just see movies with good stories. For the record, I love PLATOON. Stone’s co-writer is Kieran Fitzgerald. He doesn’t have many writing credits to his name, but he did write THE HOMESMAN (2014), a fairly well-received film if I remember correctly. The composer for the film is Craig Armstrong, who’s had a pretty busy year having done ME BEFORE YOU (2016), which I loved, and will be competing with himself doing this weeks BRIDGET JONES’S BABY (2016). Beyond that, he’s composed the music for such movies like MOULIN ROUGE! (2001), LOVE ACTUALLY (2003), and RAY (2004). Finally, this film’s got two cinematographers, Adam Peters and Anthony Dod Mantle. Peters mostly does documentaries, but he has worked with Stone before on SAVAGES (2012). Mantle is more into full-on movies, having such hits like DREDD (2012), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), and 28 DAYS LATER… (2002).

I don’t know, I might concede that the movie will look nice, I’m not convinced it’ll be a very good movie. Solid at best is my prediction, but I’m open to be surprised. This is my honest opinion of SNOWDEN.

(SUMMARY)

Based on real events. Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a brilliant young computer expert. After a botched attempt to join the military, he made his way to the CIA and became one of their sharpest minds. Around the same time, Edward finally meets Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), a photographer that he met online while he was in boot camp and they really hit it off. But as his time with the CIA progresses, he realizes that maybe their actions aren’t legal and the more he’s asked to do questionable things in the name of national security will eventually lead him to blowing the mother of all whistles against the American government.

(REVIEW)

Alright, so it’s not half bad.

In traditional Honest Puyda fashion, let’s talk about the acting. I railed on Gordon-Levitt for his unnecessary use of his deep voice. I still hold true to that, but I did get used to it, occasionally getting sucked out of it. But for all intents and purposes, he does great work here as always. Ed is a good and quiet man and you really feel for the guy who knows what the right thing to do is, but it would mean being labeled as a criminal. Not only that, but from how built up his relationship and life with Lindsay, he is basically giving up his life. A good life. Would anyone really blame him if he continued to turn a blind eye to what the government claims they don’t do? As for Woodley, as expected, she was fine. Hell, in certain scenes, she was just as good as Gordon-Levitt. There’s this one scene when they’re in… Japan, I want to say, and the relationship between them has strained from all the secrets that he’s had to keep and it’s driving Lindsay up the walls. Finally, it erupts into a pretty heated argument. Both actors really carry the scene and make you empathize for both sides. One just wants to be a patriot to his country, but also wants to maintain his normal life, which proves nearly impossible. The other is tired of the secrets and the effects is has on her lover, but she knows that his job is nearly top priority and that can really weigh heavily on a person.

And setting aside feminist, equal-rights supporting, intellectual mind to let my misogynistic man-brain take over for a second, Woodley on a pole is a cinematic gift to the eyes. *SLAPS MYSELF* I said it, moving on! Back to being an intellectual!

And I swear, I will take this scene with me to the grave, but I think we need another movie with Quinto and Richardson yelling at each other. Do they genuinely not get along? Quinto spit-yelled, man! You can’t act that shit! That was real spit; real anger! And when Richardson was yelling, I curled into a ball in my seat ready to cry. I’m still traumatized.

Ultimately, the performances hold up the film immensely and because this is a very character-driven story, it’s what makes the movie work for the most part.

I also applaud the movie for making its techno-babble pretty easy to follow. I mean, it’s not nearly on the level of Star Trek or anything, and it’s not nearly as simple as Star Wars, but there’s is a simplification that makes it easy for the non tech-savvy folks out there understand just how messed up this shit can get. Not that I can quote anything, funny enough, but I understood what was happening.

But good casting isn’t everything in a movie, so let’s get down to the problems I had with the story.

Ifrans was a miscast. Don’t get me wrong, he’s by no means a bad actor, I like him, but the way he talks felt just a little too… theatrical for me. Any time a scene has him, he’s almost purposefully talking in a deep dramatic voice, instead of talking like a regular person. I think the reason why he works so well in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is because he plays a comic book villain. Comic book villains need a fun and dramatic performance and that’s what he delivers there. But here, it’s too dramatic. Maybe that’s not his fault, maybe it’s Stone’s, but it doesn’t really work for me. But if that was the worst problem I had with the movie, it’d be fine.

The biggest problem that I have is that it drags. It’s a two hour film and I would swear the story doesn’t kick in until the final third or quarter of the movie. Let me explain. The bits about Ed’s back story is perfectly fine. He was once in the military, but had to be discharged for breaking both his legs, that’s fine and interesting. Everything involving him with Lindsay, that’s also fine. Gordon-Levitt and Woodley do have great chemistry together and are a precious on-screen couple. But a vast majority of the movie feels like a damn tease for the advertised story that we were promised. Fairly early on in Ed’s time with the government, he discovers that they have the means of hacking phones and computers and can spy on whoever, bypassing any legalities. He’s obviously questioning every square-foot of that logic, but… none of this goes anywhere. He basically just quits or transfers somewhere not aligned to the bullshit. But lo and behold, just as he’s built himself a nice life with Lindsay, he’s offered a new job with the government and he takes it. Once again, he discovers the government doing shady shit and now he decides to take it public… because they were spying on him and Lindsay, if I remember correctly. So recap: Ed discovers shady shit, leaves the job. The job offers him another job, he discovers shady shit, now he goes public with it. The movie markets itself like that’s the entire movie: a Jason Bourne-type thriller of Ed trying to make the public aware of its government’s actions. But… yeah, it’s all a bunch of build-up… to the build-up. The funny thing is, I don’t think there’s a fix for it. If you told me that’s exactly how the story went for the man, then that would make sense. Maybe taking all this public really wasn’t an instantaneous thing for him. It was developed over time. That may work for a documentary, but for a movie, it feels a little stretched out and nearly half the movie feels unnecessary. Not poorly done, just… repetitive.

I would say this was a rather solid flick. It’s not amazing, but for what we’re given, it’s nice to be shown the details of what happened to this man and it’s great that those who might have been out of the loop on these events (like I kind of was), it’s awesome that he’s getting the exposure he deserves. But for a thriller that probably dramatized certain aspects of the truth, it’s nothing to write home about. I’d say it’s worth seeing if you want a two hour cliff-note of what happened, but if you’re already pretty knowledgeable on these current events, then I might say viewer beware.

My honest rating for SNOWDEN: a strong 3/5.

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Upcoming reviews:

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