Sep 21, 2016

It's real, it's thrilling, and it's directed by Oliver Stone.


Grade: B+

Director: Oliver Stone (JFK)

Screenplay: Stone, Kieran Fitzgerald (The Homesman)

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Wire), Shailene Woodley (Divergant)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 14 min

by John DeSando

“The modern battlefield is everywhere.” Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans)

The most celebrated whistleblower in history, Ed Snowden, is played as an introverted egghead by the accomplished actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed in Snowden by the accomplished Oliver Stone. Less subjective than Stone’s JFK, this fascinating docudrama seems spot on, especially if a viewer has seen the well-done documentary on the same subject, Citizenfour (2014).

In this dramatic rendition of the events leading to Snowden’s being accused of espionage by the US for revealing the bulk surveillance of American citizens by the NSA, Snowden is resolute exposing the violation of the Fourth Amendment while he acknowledges the cost to him and his loved ones. Except for an over-the-top, slightly sinister CIA instructor, Corbin O’Brian, characters are realistic and under played, not always characteristic of an Oliver Stone film.

Although Edward Snowden has the low-key personality of Sully Sullenberger of the United Airlines Hudson River landing, like Clint Eastwood’s docudrama Sully, there is something strong and heroic in what they do, both ending up saving life and liberty for American citizens. As with Sully’s wife, Snowden has the requisite suffering lover, in this case Lindsay (Shailine Woodley), but this time the footage spent with the lover makes sense to show Snowden’s humanity and the difficult choice he must make.

After all, a posh job in Hawaii and a beautiful lover would make any man pause before he upended his life to preserve the personal freedom of his fellow Americans. Bur Stone gently lets the audience identify with the heroics and makes a 2 ¼ hour film seem both short if you like the intrigue and long if you don’t like the love scenes. It could be argued that the film is too long, but given that limitation, it works like an exciting spy story whose ending we know but whose innards we happily experience for the first time.

Unlike Stone’s previous head bangers, Snowden gently lets you decide if Edward Snowden is patriot or traitor.

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