In Snowden, director Oliver Stone presents a movie of genuine viewer intrigue, political machinations, and cyberthriller espionage which harkens back to his early 1990s heyday of such work as in JFK and Nixon. Surely, Edward Snowden was a ripe figure for Stone to tackle as with earlier political conspiracies including the John F Kennedy assassination and the Watergate break-in. In nearly all of his work, Stone is most interested in what makes these media-central figures tick, and Snowden is no exception.
Rather than point a finger at the former National Security Agency hacker who quickly departed the organization with a thumb drive’s full of classified materials, Stone presents him rather objectively. We see a young climber eager to achieve and play to his strengths as an information specialist. Whereas Richard Nixon ordered the direct operations and coverup of his scandal and the Kennedy assassination was clouded in the agendas of many, Stone takes us into Snowden’s home, keeping us looped in on private conversations with his significant other as the titular character makes choices about various assignments and statuses he’s granted.
Whether one agrees or not with Snowden’s eventual actions, Stone integrates multi-media to the proceedings, perhaps not as egregiously as he did in Natural Born Killers, but certainly on a par with JFK. In one dynamic sequence, the character describes the landscape in which he works, while Stone visually expose the degree to which US government operatives have full access to the private lives of its citizens. Undoubtedly, regardless of your designation of Snowden as a hero or traitor, this sequence would give anyone pause once one considers how totally immersed the NSA was and is into the lives of people the agency is supposed to be protecting. This cyber-sequence posits many questions, many of which have no easy answers.
Without question, Stone’s film exists in the 21st century, not only in chronology but, more importantly, in aesthetics. We live in a post-9/11 world, and threats from domestic terrorists are on the radar of most everyone, whether justified or not as a daily reality. As such, films such as Snowden play into the common fear that terror could exist in our own communities, and, as a result, agencies such as the NSA, CIA, and FBI must be constantly monitoring all local activities. Sobering, illuminating, and dramatically engrossing, Snowden is Stone’s best film in two decades and rings true as to the Patriot Act environs which we have sown.