Snowden

Director: Oliver Stone (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Oliver Stone’s ham-fisted biopic of a CIA whistleblower is a sprawling and disjointed essay on espionage. The veteran director explores the conflict between individual liberty and state control by dramatising the life of Edward Snowden, portrayed as a patriot who becomes a dissident martyr to the cause of freedom.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has never been more anodyne than as the CIA employee who became global news when he revealed thousands of classified security documents to the world.

The computer programmer is shocked when he discovers the US spy agency regularly ignores the law and spies on anyone they choose to. It’s difficult to muster sympathy for him. What did he imagine the CIA does all day?

Even so, he’s not totally outraged until his politically liberal girlfriend becomes a target for surveillance by his employer. Shailene Woodley is wasted as Lindsay, and seems chosen as much for her ability to pole dance as for her acting talent. She’s represented as a radicalising influence on Snowden, unfairly shifting the blame for his act of treason from him to her.

Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage offer flamboyant energy, trying to out do each other and making up for the lead’s lacklustre presence. Meanwhile the script is thinly stretched over 10 years and a lot of ground, taking in Japan, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Russia.

Although visually restrained by his own standards, Stone enthusiastically employs a confusion of camera angles, colour filters and a fractured narrative. None of these tricks succeed in making a series of hotel room conversations interesting. There is a lot of staring at computer screens.

Stone is full of righteous angry at the treatment Snowden receives, but he fails to justify the actions of a very flaky individual.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Messenger

Director: David Blair (2015)

 Scruffy, sarcastic, and self-medicating with alcohol, Jack is not always welcome at the funerals he gatecrashers.

At the behest of the bothersome ghosts he conveys messages from the deceased to the bereaved.

We see his troubled life in flashback as the scripts toys with whether his powers are really the manifestation of mental illness.

In a dubious subplot featuring no surprises, a dead journalist is badgering Jack to visit his TV presenter girlfriend.

Robert Sheehan is nicely abrasive as he manfully holds the film together.

Former model Lily Cole offers sympathy as Jack’s sister and Joely Richardson appears as a psychiatrist.

There’s nice location work but the script is uncertain and the ghost of Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense haunts throughout.

Maggie

Director: Henry Hobson (2015)

As his daughter turns into a zombie, a father faces a terrible dilemma in this bleak gothic horror.

Fresh from the debacle of Terminator Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays against type in this thoughtful character study.

Sparse on action, low on budget and long on mood, it’s an admirable and interesting departure from Arnie’s usual flavour of explosive adventure.

It’s such a strange stitching together of component parts it could be a new round of TV’s improvisational game show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Make a film with ‘zombies’ in the style of ‘Terence Malick’ starring ‘Schwarzenegger’. Go!

It’s a barking idea, albeit a welcome one. A provocative and almost perverse retooling of the Schwarzenegger brand.

Arnie plays Wade, tired, heavy footed farmer in a beard and lumberjack shirt. We meet him taking his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) home from hospital.

Maggie is infected with the Necrombulist virus which decays the skin and changes the victim into flesh eating animal.

Wade knows Maggie will never recover from the virus which has devastated the world. Friends in the local services collude against the federal authorities to help them spend some final quality time together.

As Maggie slowly changes Wade ponders how to deal with her inevitable decline.

It’s an apocalyptic world of burning fields, missing person posters, deserted petrol stations and rubbish filled streets. Marshal law and curfews are enforced by an oppressive bureaucracy and a heavy handed military.

As the camera chases Maggie across fields, she’s backlit with the sun creating a halo. There’s an emphasis on close up head shots in shallow focus. The palette is washed out, chilly and grim.

With a doomed father/daughter relationship it has echoes of John Wayne’s The Seachers (1956). Arnie has the rigidly defined acting range of the Duke and a similarly framed and monumental presence.

It’s the flip-side of Life After Beth (2014) which was played for laughs.

Maggie is well constructed, intelligent, ambitious and achieves a scope beyond it’s budget limitations. Kudos to Arnie for using his industry clout to have it made.

But with it’s sombre, reflective tone and focus on parental guilt, broken homes and self-harm, it’ll disappoint anyone who is expecting the Terminator to turn up and save the day.