Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once the political firebrand of the far left, Oliver Stone has lost the intensity that pushed his earlier work. However, Stone seems still to believe he hasn’t lost his touch, and so he’s taken on a film about our contemporary culture of government spying. Tracking the life of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from CIA to NSA to fugitive, Stone seems convinced that his audience is in the dark about the government’s recent wrongdoing. Snowden serves as a vehicle for (in Stone’s mind) us clueless schmucks, as our hero blindly follows his country’s orders and then realizes the error of his ways. Stone and co-screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald construct Snowden so as to follow a horribly cliched “hero” template. A scene where a former teacher of Snowden watches his achievements and says, “He did it. The kid actually did it,” plays out unironically, making Snowden’s turn from nerd to rogue seem even more forced. The approach lessens the material, turning a story of personal sacrifice against wrongdoing into one that feels safe and easy. Oddly, the film’s framing device heavily features Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) filming Snowden for her own documentary, Citizenfour, which provided a much more insightful look into the man’s life and psychology. Poitras’s film wasn’t confined by generic tropes—and even as a doc, it was involving and tense, effectively rendering Stone’s latest pretty useless.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 2.