Movie Review: Snowden

By Matthew Huntley

September 26, 2016

He didn't answer the 'what is the worst part of working with Oliver Stone' question well.

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Depending on your point of view, Snowden's role as a whistleblower either makes him a hero or a traitor, but no matter how you see him, what Snowden does, and indeed what it should do, is present him as a full-fledged, genuine character with relatable emotions, struggles and relationships. These are the qualities that bring the film to life beyond any reservations we may have regarding his behavior. At the end of the day, he is a young, troubled soul whose knowledge and position have put him in a very difficult situation, and we recognize that.

Of course, Snowden could have simply turned the other cheek, gone about his day job, and retired home every night to his loving and loyal girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), but he doesn't, because he's not wired that way. His conscience and intelligence have forced him to wrestle with his own ideals.

On the one hand, he wants to be a patriot and utilize his skills in the name of defense and freedom (his motivation for joining the army in the first place was to fight in Iraq and “free people from oppression”), which is what his CIA recruiter and instructor, Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans), tells him he was hired for. On the other, the more he learns about the government's malfeasance, the more he believes his true purpose is to spread the truth and start a public dialogue with the government and question whether they're going too far in the name of security, or at least going about it in wrong way. He's blunt in expressing his opinion that the government's quantifying of data has become less about protecting us and more about maintaining cyber supremacy and, in turn, supremacy in general.


Because I saw Citizenfour, as well as a recent episode of HBO's Vice titled "State of Surveillance," in which the real Snowden gives a disturbing demonstration of just how simple it is for the government to track us through our phones and computers (did you know they have the ability to turn on our devices?), I wasn't particularly surprised by the information Snowden brought to the table, but for those learning about it for the first time, Stone's film may prove scary and fascinating, which is another reason to see it.

What the film ultimately did for me was invoke a sense of empathy for Snowden and reiterated just how important transparency is when it comes to government and leadership. To me, transparency isn't about exposing secrets but rather sharing knowledge, and the more knowledge we share with and obtain from one another, the more involved and empowered we feel, and shouldn't the government work at making us feel involved and empowered? Whether or not you agree with Snowden or me on this issue is beside the point and its liberal message isn’t what makes Snowden a valuable film. What makes it valuable is that we care about the person it follows, a person who's torn between doing what others expect of him and what he thinks is right, which is a dilemma we can all relate to. This isn't the most original, emotional or tightly constructed of biopics, but it underlines an issue that's becoming more relevant every day. Before it does that, though, it ensures the person telling us about it is someone with whom we can sympathize.

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