Biography Blu-ray Review

'Snowden' Blu-ray Review: A paint-by-numbers biopic about truth, paranoia and the threat to personal freedom

January 10, 2017Ben 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 the 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). Using the interview as a jumping-off point for the narrative, the film delves into Snowden's failed stint in the US army 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.

As Edward Snowden, however, Gordon-Levitt brings a dedication to the role that at least helps to distract viewers from some of the film's shortcomings. But still, it's not quite enough to overcome the story's overwhelming lack of palpable tension. Ultimately, it seems that what Stone is trying to achieve with Snowden is a biopic on the level of The Social Network or The Fifth Estate; but, unfortunately, the result falls far short of the expectations.

Snowden debuts on Blu-ray with a crisp 1080p transfer. And while a film of this nature can hardly be described as "eye-popping," the image quality here nonetheless holds up to scrutiny, with top-notch color saturation (as in scenes depicting the lush, island greenery of Hawaii) and an excellent degree of fine detail in faces, objects and environments. As for the audio, Snowden doesn't deliver a whirlwind listening experience. However, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix ensures that the movie's dialogue and score come across with just as much clarity as they did in theaters, bolstered by the sounds of city traffic and the click-clack of keyboards.

Elevation Pictures' two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an iTunes digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Deleted Scenes (8:51) - Five scenes ("Classroom," "Ewen Wants to Meet Ed," "Art Gallery," "Ed and Trevor" and "Retweets").
  • Finding the Truth (3:57) - Director Oliver Stone and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley talk about the importance of bringing Snowden's story to the big screen.
  • Snowden: Q&A (41:00) - TV critic and author Matt Zoller Seitz moderates a live panel with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Oliver Stone and (via web chat) the real Edward Snowden, as they talk about the film, its depiction of real-life events and persons, the actors' portrayals and more.

Snowden is available from Elevation Pictures as of December 27th, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French DTS 5.1 tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 2 Hrs. 14 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original TIFF review, published on September 10th, 2016.

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