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.