Snow­den

SNOW­DEN, drama, rated R; Re­gal Sta­dium 14 and Vi­o­let Crown; 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Ed­ward Snow­den, the man who blew the whis­tle on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s se­cret blan­ket sur­veil­lance pro­gram of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, is still liv­ing in Rus­sia. He has said he would be will­ing to re­turn home to face trial, but only with a guar­an­tee that the trial be fair and pub­lic. To some, he’s a traitor. To oth­ers, he’s a hero. To most, he’s a ci­pher.

Oliver Stone’s new movie, which la­bels it­self “a dramatization of ac­tual events,” sets out to fill in the hu­man di­men­sions of this po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure, and to show the arc of his jour­ney from mil­i­tary-fam­ily Ayn Ran­dian con­ser­va­tive to a man will­ing to risk his life and his cit­i­zen­ship to ex­pose what he sees as a be­trayal of ba­sic Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples.

There’s an un­der­played qual­ity to Stone’s film, which will come as a sur­prise and per­haps a dis­ap­point­ment to moviegoers fa­mil­iar with some of the di­rec­tor’s showier past work ( JFK, Nixon, Born on the

Fourth of July). But this lighter touch seems to go with the char­ac­ter of Ed Snow­den, a com­puter geek who dropped out of high school but still man­aged to be the smartest guy in most rooms. Snow­den is played by Joseph Gor­don-Levitt (In­cep­tion), who spent some time in Moscow talk­ing to his sub­ject and ab­sorb­ing his voice and man­ner­isms. He does such a good job of in­ter­nal­iz­ing his man that when, at the end of the film, Stone in­tro­duces an ap­pear­ance of the real Snow­den, the tran­si­tion is vir­tu­ally seam­less.

Stone frames his ac­count with the film­ing of the 2014 Laura Poitras-di­rected, Os­car-win­ning doc­u­men­tary Ci­ti­zen­four (that ti­tle be­ing the han­dle Snow­den used in con­tact­ing the film­maker). Poitras (Melissa Leo) and her col­league, the jour­nal­ist Glenn Green­wald (Zachary Quinto) wait for Snow­den in the Hong Kong air­port, iden­tify him by the Ru­bik’s Cube he car­ries, and spirit him away to a room in the Mira Ho­tel, where they and Guardian reporter Ewen Ma­cAskill (Tom Wilkin­son) de­brief him, film him, and try to fig­ure out a strat­egy for the re­lease of this in­cen­di­ary ma­te­rial to the pub­lic.

We meet young Snow­den in full mil­i­tary gear, a gung-ho sol­dier who en­listed in re­sponse to 9/11 for Spe­cial Forces, un­til the phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment of train­ing broke his frail body and he had to set­tle on an­other way to serve his coun­try. That path was in­tel­li­gence, and soon he is at the CIA’s Vir­ginia train­ing cen­ter, where his ge­nius per­for­mance at­tracts the sponsorship of Corbin O’Brian (a su­perb Rhys Ifans). He also makes a friend and ad­viser of Hank For­rester (a re­fresh­ingly un­der­stated Ni­co­las Cage), an ag­ing and dis­il­lu­sioned CIA former whiz kid.

The movie’s strong­est in­vest­ment in the hu­man­iza­tion of Snow­den comes through ro­mance. On a geek-ori­ented dat­ing web­site he meets Lind­say Mills (Shai­lene Wood­ley). She’s a pho­tog­ra­pher and a lib­eral who takes him to an anti-Iraq war rally and rails against the cor­rup­tion of that mis­be­got­ten ad­ven­ture. Snow­den, with the mild smug­ness of an in­tel­li­gence in­sider, dis­agrees with her po­si­tion, but there’s a spark, and they even­tu­ally fall in love. The space Stone de­votes to their grow­ing re­la­tion­ship can some­times feel like a dis­trac­tion from the main event, but it serves the pur­pose of show­ing us a more rounded, more hu­man di­men­sion to the per­son we have known pri­mar­ily from news head­lines.

Said main event is Snow­den’s pil­grim’s progress from staunch sub­scriber to the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s party line, and unswerv­ing be­liever in his coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence mis­sion, to dis­com­fort, doubt, dis­il­lu­sion, and fi­nally an act of prin­ci­pled trea­son. The nar­ra­tive is per­sua­sive and riv­et­ing, but de­liv­ered in a low-key way that es­chews the stan­dard pulse­pound­ing, palm-sweat­ing de­vices of the in­ter­na­tional spy thriller. Snow­den is no Ja­son Bourne, and there is no dodg­ing of mys­te­ri­ous black sedans chas­ing him down Hong Kong al­leys, nor a tick­ing count­down of the LED on a dev­as­tat­ing ex­plo­sive de­vice. The clos­est the movie comes to that kind of sus­pense is Snow­den’s down­load­ing of the pur­loined files onto a chip while his su­pe­ri­ors are gath­ered in plain sight in the next glass cu­bi­cle, and his spir­it­ing the ma­te­rial out of the build­ing.

But this slow-cooked pac­ing is not with­out ten­sion of its own. One of Stone’s most ar­rest­ing vi­su­als is a scene in which Snow­den, in a se­cure room, meets via video with O’Brian, in which Ifans’ face ap­pears on a gi­ant, wall-size screen like an avun­cu­lar Big Brother. O’Brian of­fers Snow­den ad­vice, phi­los­o­phy, a chill­ing warn­ing, and shock­ing ev­i­dence of the ex­tent to which his life is be­ing mon­i­tored.

You won’t leave the theater with any doubts as to where Oliver Stone stands on the hero/vil­lain ques­tion, but you will leave with a much fuller sense of who Ed Snow­den was, who he is, and why he took the life-chang­ing, world-chang­ing path he chose. His na­tive coun­try has re­voked his pass­port and branded him a traitor, and he lan­guishes in Moscow under the du­bi­ous pro­tec­tion of Vladimir Putin. But his gov­ern­ment has since passed laws and re­formed poli­cies to re­flect the light that Snow­den brought to bear on some of its abuses of con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples. — Jonathan Richards

I can­not tell a lie: Joseph Gor­don-Levitt

Love in the time of sur­veil­lance: Gor­don-Levitt and Shai­lene Wood­ley

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