Can you handle the truth?
Director: Laura Poitras (The Oath)
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glen Greenwald
Runtime: 114 min
by John DeSando
“We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind.” Ed Snowden
Welcome to a real-time documentary that doesn’t have a political agenda yet covers the most controversial and important whistle blowing in this century. Edward Snowden disclosed extensive information mining of US citizens by NSA and other agencies. Laura Poitras’s thrilling but sometimes slow documentary takes us to Hong Kong to witness Snowden’s alarming the world about the US spying on its citizens and world leaders among others.
Citizenfour (the handle Snowden used when communicating) keeps the audience front row and center as Snowden makes contact with director Laura Poitras to arrange footage of his process, and most importantly with reporter Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian to write about this game-changing event. Neither is hesitant to take on the story, possibly because of its incendiary nature and the honesty of the whistleblower.
This story is like a great Jason Bourne spy story (without the glamour and tensions) pitting former intelligence operative Snowden against the great American political and media machines. In the outside world, German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock that the US was monitoring her cell phone conversations.
Poitras smartly includes President Obama condemning Snowden as unpatriotic and a danger to the American people, an argument going on even as you read this review. Curiously, the documentary makes no argument and goes easy on the suspense, making significant historical cinema but not gripping drama.
The so far unanswerable question is whether he’s a hero or a traitor. The Snowden exposed to the ever present harsh light of camera and mics seems completely at peace with himself as he considers the rough life he has elected as a whistleblower. Indeed we are fortunate to see him at the most stressful point in his life being cool and level-headed. While Poitras makes sure we get to know him intimately, she never loses sight of the fact that this doc is about government spying.
Citizenfour is a fascinating, risky, and brave film for everyone who is interested in the challenges of truth telling.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com