"The Masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim." —Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Snowden (2016)—based on The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man (2014) by Luke Harding—marks Oliver Stone's return to his politically oriented films as Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). Although not reaching his previous artistic heights, Stone's latest effort still compounds a very intriguing portrayal of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Mimicking the serious tone of Laura Poitras's groundbreaking documentary Citizenfour (2014), Stone gives us an uneasy ride through a vertiginous landscape of the Orwellian US Intelligence Community and the deep state bent on massive global surveillance. “In one month, NSA collected 3.1 billion calls and emails from inside the United States… and that’s a partial count, it doesn’t include any Telecom company data,“ confides Snowden at one point.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt impersonates the elusive Snowden in a tour-de-force performance, including his almost robotic speech pattern and mannerisms without ever betraying the humanity of his controversial subject. Stone found Gordon-Levitt’s approach too “documentary-ish” at times and encouraged him to try “for the dramatic side as much as possible.” The charismatic actor (and creator of the interactive HitRecord community) renders an impressive psychological composition—avoiding blending in the shadow of Emmanuel Goldstein—projecting an earnest personality that echoes Snowden's heroic temperament.
Snowden cites Henry David Thoreau as one of his influences. For Thoreau, as reflected in his essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), the government is primarily an agent of corruption. “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power,” argues Thoreau. So it's "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."
Another important asset is Shailene Woodley playing Snowden's longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills, lending emotional weight to their tumultuous relationship. Their playful banter and thorny arguments feel natural, forcing us to witness the devastating effects of Snowden's stressful schedule over their personal and sexual dynamics.
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” ―George Orwell, 1984
Article published previously as Movie Review: Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ on Blogcritics.