Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” offers a unique chronicle of a very tumultuous time in our history. 9/11 changed everything, from the way we travel to the way we view religious freedom. It also changed the way we expected our government to protect us. In the face of such an unspeakable tragedy, “by any means necessary” was an understatement for how the American people wanted to ensure national security.
The film opens on one such American – a young, scrawny soldier (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden) whose short career in the Army Reserves ends after a severe injury. He is still motivated to serve his country, so yada yada yada, he ends up working for the CIA. This is where the story loses me. What was a guy who is basically Zuckerberg with glasses doing in Special Forces training? How did a “self-taught” computer scientist just wind up in the CIA? And for the love of everything secure, how was someone who repeatedly exhibited misgivings about the government’s surveillance programs selected to be a surveillance programmer? He was shown favor and given special assignments all over the world, all while accusing his superiors of being immoral. We all know White male privilege is real, but this is out of this world. It may explain, however, why the Obama Administration was and is extra pissed off. Snowden really betrayed not the USA, but the good old boys who gave him the key to the city.
I must get one thing straight – I admire Barack Obama, voted for him twice and would probably faint if I ever shook his hand. But even I can’t ignore that this is a huge failure of our current President’s leadership. He promised transparency, and kept talking about openness in government almost as much as hope and change. But the problem became worse after he took office, which is ironic given the state of our society. Even after the story broke that our own government was spending billions of dollars sifting through all of the data generated by its own citizens, people kept emailing, texting, tweeting and posting like no one was watching. No one stormed the Capitol. No one overthrew their Congressman. The leaders could have just been honest about what they were doing and almost no one here would have cared.
The lasting damage done to international relations and the fight against terrorism is another story and is not dwelled upon in the movie, which seeks to create a heroic and hunky genius with a heart. It mostly succeeds due to Shailene Woodley who plays longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills remarkably. She humanizes both Mills and Snowden, which is no easy feat given the narrative that the media spun for them both since the 2013 leak. She was ironically reduced to the revealing photographs which she had posted on social media and he is still being painted as a self-important traitor. I encourage all of you to see this film and decide for yourself if Snowden deserves the renewed calls for a Presidential pardon. I also encourage you to be careful with what you put on the Internet. Random government contractors are watching.
FINAL GRADE: A-