dir Oliver Stone
scr Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone
prd Moritz Borman, Eric Kopeloff, Philip Schulz-Deyle, Fernando Sulichin
with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage, Ben Schnetzer, Joely Richardson, Scott Eastwood, Timothy Olyphant, Logan Marshall-Green
release US 16.Sep.16, US Oct.16 lff
16/US 2h14
State secrets: Gordon-Levitt and Woodley

ifans leo quinto
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Snowden Oliver Stone tackles another iconic figure in this urgent, robust biopic, which skilfully maintains an even keel while digging into a touchy political subject. Was Edward Snowden a patriot or a traitor? That's the question that haunts every frame of this film, and Stone does his best to let the audience make up its own mind.

Ed (Gordon-Levitt) is a bright spark who never went to university, but CIA trainer Corbin (Ifans) spots his genius. Rising up the ranks, he moves from Virginia to Geneva, Japan and Hawaii, with his girlfriend Lindsay (Woodley) patiently accepting his inability to explain what he does. Along the way, his faith in the US government is badly shaken as he witnesses comprehensive data-gathering on everybody on earth, from American citizens to allied diplomats. And he strongly believes that voters should know what their elected officials are up to.

The movie is framed as Snowden tells his story to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Leo) and two Guardian journalists (Quinto and Wilkinson) in a Hong Kong hotel. This boils over into a bit of climactic action as the CIA tracks him down. Even though we know what happens, Stone so finely orchestrates these scenes that they get the blood pumping. And a final moment dissolve between Gordon-Levitt and the real Snowden raises goosebumps.

Indeed, Gordon-Levitt vanishes into the role. He's a little too cool to be a computer nerd, but is awkward and reticent enough be believable. He and Woodley play the central relationship very nicely (including an utterly unnecessary sex scene); this is the film's central through-line, a compelling love story with a lot at stake. Of the eclectic supporting cast, the standouts are Ifans for his subtle fatherly disapproval, Cage for adding a touch of bonkers energy as a jaded CIA veteran, and Schnetzer as a hyperactive fellow programmer.

And the story is tackling gravely enormous themes, pitting privacy against safety while making it very clear exactly where the government crossed the line into immorality, to say nothing about flouting the law and lying to Congress. Capturing all of this data doesn't bother most people, but what is being done with it should, as the US government uses knowledge to extort and coerce for economic gain. It's fairly impossible to believe that any of these programmes have been curbed. But even if you still have faith in your politicians, you'll still be covering your webcam.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 12.Oct.16 lff

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall