2016 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

The story of whistleblower par excellence Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is recounted in this sober and solid drama. Director Oliver Stone methodically charts the rise of Snowden from wannabe Special Forces grunt to senior analyst with the American National Security Agency in Hawaii. It's there that the increasingly troubled cyber-spook decides to reveal government dirty tricks...and finds himself in exile and living in Moscow.

Director

  • Oliver Stone

Cast

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt

  • Zachary Quinto

  • Melissa Leo

  • Shailene Woodley

  • Rhys Ifans

  • Nicolas Cage

  • Tom Wilkinson

  • Joely Richardson

Review

The New York Times praised whistleblower Edward Snowden - who is in exile after leaking the existence of illegal government surveillance programmes - for performing a "great service" to his country.

Donald Trump, however, considers him a "terrible traitor" who should face execution.

Few non-political individuals have polarised the American public like Snowden, the one-time wannabe grunt inspired by September 11 who subsequently leaked classified information that revealed clandestine public mass surveillance.

Director Oliver Stone was always going to take a partisan approach but his retelling of the renegade intelligence contractor's tale is solid and well-crafted with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's unshowy portrayal of Snowden a particular plus.

We watch the patriotic Snowden slowly work his way up the digital ranks (an in-the-field detour to Geneva reveals his distaste for CIA dirty tricks) and demonstrate his computer programming skills when he formulates a defence against Chinese hackers.

However, when he later learns that his code-writing work is being used to eavesdrop on millions of unwary citizens, he arranges to meet journalists in a Hong Kong hotel and spill the digital beans.

Fleshing out this sorry tale of government deception is Shailene Woodley as Snowden's long-suffering girlfriend Lindsay Mills (who would later move to Russia to be with him) and Rhys Ifans as his driven corporate mentor Corbin O'Brian.

Less successful (Stone never really does humour) is Nicolas Cage as a maverick spook relegated to poking about with eavesdropping hardware in a basement.

However, Stone makes a strong case for Snowden - neither a maverick loose cannon or out-of-control zealot - as a true patriot who, when he realises the basic dishonesty underpinning NSA policy, whistle-blows in the most responsible manner possible.

It's a well-constructed story that does not require any cinematic flamboyance to make its point.

Watch it (after all, they're watching you...)

Tim Evans