Snowden: The Battlefield Is Online

Disappointed with the morality and ethics of the intelligence services, private contractor Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) resigns from his job at the NSA (National Security Agency). He sees that data is being collected, to track all types of digital communications. These aren’t just for America’s foreign enemies and terrorist groups but its own citizens as well (every person). When Snowden decides to leak this classified information to the British press (the Guardian), he becomes a traitor to some, a hero to others and a fugitive on the run from American justice…or injustice.

Oliver Stone is my favourite director and I do believe that this might be his most thought provoking picture yet. We’ve had Platoon, JFK and Salvador to name a few. He has a reputation for making pictures that really hit audiences hard as they are often brutally critical of our society. Now, Vietnam is over and so is Watergate. In the modern day, the battlefield is everywhere and it’s online. There are other ways to cripple nations than to drop an A-Bomb on them. Stone’s Snowden shows us that the US will do whatever it takes to get ahead, and they do so by getting inside information on their enemies via illegal surveillance programs conducted by the NSA.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) in Oliver Stone’s biopic
(Snowden, Open Road Films)

Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) tells Snowden “In twenty years, Iraq will be a hellhole nobody cares about. Terrorism’s a short-term threat. The real threats will come from China, Russia, Iran…I don’t want to risk losing you for some horseshit war over sand and oil…” It’s quotes like this that make Stone’s screenplays worth listening to. Stone has a knack for making movies that rattle cages and ruffle feathers. The difference this time is that he has not made a biopic about a dead president or civil rights leader. He’s made a movie about Edward Snowden, a man who is very much alive and a controversial figure in modern history.

The other day, I was in a university seminar and Snowden’s name came up. Not many people knew who he was. You’d think my generation of twenty-somethings would know something about him. 2013 is very recent and I was shocked to see more people can tell you about Justin Bieber than Snowden or organizations like WikiLeaks. The truth is, nobody cares about stuff like that unless it’s on Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed. As a society, we don’t want to hear about the masses being slaves to commodity fetishism or that governments exploit human rights without being challenged. There is no “doing right” in government. It’s all about who has the deepest pockets and Stone shows us that. International corporations and criminals rule the world while we sit cosily in our living rooms tuning into X-Factor and SNL.

Before the NSA, Snowden went to work for the CIA
(Snowden, Open Road Films)

Stone makes movies that are dense in their content yet engaging to watch. Most movies of this calibre are like reading a textbook. To some people that’s alright, but to many it’s like watching paint dry. Much alike his previous endavours, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. Snowden is certainly worth the ticket price. It runs for a one hundred and forty minutes but it flies by. The dialogue really gives you a heavy heart and the cinematography is really something, as is the moving musical score. The Levitt/Woodley partnership really works. They really work well together onscreen and this is evident through their character development throughout the film. Woodley (Divergent Series) gives her most mature performance to date. This is more than a political conspiracy thriller, it’s a drama that shows how these events strained Snowden’s relationship with Mills.

When it comes to depicting the illegal surveillance program, questions of its truthfulness are raised. It has to be said, the headquarters look like something out of a Bond movie. Though, the visual effects used to show the connections through hacking people online are ace. It shows the virtual wires that connect people online whether that be email or social media, but also elements that aren’t for public consumption. To me, watching all these things is very interesting. Basically, they’re telling us that nothing we do is private and Big Brother is always watching. The revelation of Snowden and Assange in recent years is scary. The world is changing, times are changing and it’s making me think books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and V For Vendetta should be in the nonfiction section of the library.

Mills (Woodley) and Snowden (Levitt) on a trek in Hawaii
(Snowden,. Open Road Films)

Much alike 9/11, Snowden’s leak is another of this century’s defining events. All in all, Stone has done it again. He’s made a movie that won’t be digested by the mass populous, but that’s okay. His movies are made for a certain type of film watcher. If you care about your rights, this is the film for you. With great performances and a screenplay to kill, Snowden is my favourite movie of the year and certainly one of the most important features films since 9/11.

Stone has returned