Biography Drama

'Snowden' TIFF 2016 Review: Anatomy of a whistleblower

September 10, 2016Ben MK

Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to real-life drama. After all, he's tackled the stories of two former US Presidents, the heroic aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack, and out-of-control rock stars with Nixon, JFK, World Trade Center and The Doors. With Snowden, however, Stone turns his attention to one of the most polarizing figures of the last few years — former CIA analyst Edward Snowden.

Chronicling the years between 2004 and 2013, and based in part on author/lawyer Anatoly Kucherena's quasi-fictional novel, "Time of the Octopus," the film follows Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he recounts his partial life story to journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill (Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson), while holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room. Using the interview as a narrative jumping-off point, the film delves into Snowden's failed tenure as a US army recruit and his time at the CIA, as well as his tumultuous relationship with on-and-off girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).

Of course, Poitras and Greenwald's interview not only resulted in the June 6th, 2013 Guardian article that exposed the NSA's spying on US citizens; it also became the subject of the 2014 documentary Citizenfour, which, as it stands, is a much more intriguing character study, not to mention a compelling account of the perilous world of post-911 US national security. In contrast, Snowden feels tepid. For despite Stone and co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald's best efforts, the film only supplements the facts with clich├ęd melodrama and a flat, unconvincing romantic subplot.

Snowden is receiving its world premiere as part of TIFF 2016's Gala Presentations programme. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 14 Min.

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