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With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Eastwood, Ben Schnetzer
Written by: Kieran Fitzgerald & Oliver Stone, based on books by Anatoly Kucherena & Luke Harding
Directed by: Oliver Stone
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 134
Date: 09/16/2016

Snowden (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Spy Fall

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The main question regarding Oliver Stone's new biopic Snowden, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, is — in addition to whether it's worth seeing — is whether, compared to the 2014 documentary Citizenfour, it's even relevant.

Snowden even begins a scene of filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) meeting with Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a Hong Kong hotel room, and starting to film what would become that powerful, Oscar-winning work.

Citizenfour — which is currently streaming free on — is jaw-dropping to watch, and contains, as much as any documentary can, the facts of the case.

On the other hand, there is director Stone, who is famous for his conspiracy-laden political fictions.

Stone's great reign ran roughly from 1986 (Salvador and Platoon) to 1995 (Nixon), during which time he attacked the Vietnam War three times, and took on the JFK assassination, Wall Street greed, the media's obsession with killers, and even Jim Morrison.

Then, when Stone explored a corrupt government or questionable movement, it was like a hunter or an assassin were after an already-perceived target.

Since then, he has made a few tepid thrillers and a rather benign biopic of George W. Bush. Stone's righteous anger and crackpot appeal seem to have dried up.

His Snowden is more like a lamb, inadvertently stumbling upon the evil that men do.

Despite its fine filmmaking and performances, Snowden is a soft film. It shows the character through a filtered movie light, as a hero, while briefly acknowledging that a few cranky folks elsewhere think he's a pest, or a criminal.

The new movie charts Snowden's career, from his early conservative days hoping to serve his country, his brief military career to his idealistic joining of the CIA, to meeting his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).

He's shocked as he discovers the level at which the U.S. government uses technology to spy on all its citizens, not just suspected terrorists.

As he walks out of the government building for the final time with his infamous hidden data, Snowden can't suppress a big, warm, fuzzy smile.

Nevertheless, Snowden is still an interesting, emotional companion piece to Citizenfour.

The real Snowden, in his interviews, has already made his decision, and is merely recounting facts. In "Snowden," we witness his rising, harrowing guilt, and the breaking point at which he can no longer work for these people and must do something about what he knows.

Yet Snowden lacks the sense of danger the real story had. It inspires hope that things can change, but not necessarily the courage to change them.

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