Preview: Snowden


Snowden is an upcoming political thriller and part biographical picture of Edward Snowden, who shot to the top of everyone’s radar in 2013 after he leaked classified information from the NSA, revealing first to the Guardian newspaper, and then to the world the nature and extent of (primarily) the US’ intelligence and surveillance services. Directed by Oliver Stone, Snowden is scheduled to be released in September.


By now of course, we all know what kind of films Stone likes to make in terms of themes and messages, and more often than not they’re very good films too – let’s not forget as well as writing and directing greats like Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Wall Street, he’s also written a lot of hits – Midnight Express and Scarface, for example. That he’s back writing and directing with Snowden then can only be a good thing. Not least because Stone is one of the few directors working today who can demonstrably handle the depth and complexity of a story such as this.

Politics of the film aside, audiences should get to see an interesting and thought-provoking political thriller.

The cast too, for the most part, looks very promising. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the titular Edward Snowden, and if you have seen the trailer you will have no doubt been unsettled by his near-perfect imitation of Snowden’s voice and facial ticks. This is a good sign of course, and if nothing else it looks as though we’ll have a good central performance from a good actor, which might bode well for Gordon-Levitt as awards season begins to take shape towards the end of the year. The rest of the ensemble cast is also impressive – Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood and Rhys Ifans, to name just a few. More controversially, Nicolas Cage is also a member of this cast. We can only hope that Cage’s…Nicolas Cage-isms do not pull the audience out too much of what could otherwise be a very engaging political drama. With that said, his role does appear to be a minor one, which is perhaps for the best.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle Snowden will have to overcome is not the risk of reigniting the controversy in the American psyche of what Edward Snowden did, but, in simple terms, the audience knows the broad narrative and eventual outcome of the tale. As such, it needs to really sink its teeth into you, Zero Dark Thirty-style, in order to have you on the edge of your seat despite the back of your mind reminding you constantly that you know what is about to happen. Hopefully Stone will be able to achieve this, and politics of the film aside, audiences should get to see an interesting and thought-provoking political thriller that will resonate with their worldview, be it positively or negatively.


It’s arguable that whenever someone decides to make a film about someone or something that is or was supposedly controversial, the best reaction it can get with regard to its politics is if everyone is offended by it, as this suggests some commitment to narrative fact over a shallower political gloss. This probably won’t be the case with Snowden, but it looks as though it could still be an enjoyable film regardless, and if it leans more towards a pro-Snowden message as we might assume with Stone, it could be tentatively said that a majority of audience members will likely share this lean. In any case, even if they don’t, Snowden seems like a great film to go and see with a group of people before discussing the politics and complexities of the narrative afterwards, and if not, a good pure thriller to enjoy on a more basic level.

By Oliver Rowe

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