Movie Review: Snowden

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snowden“Some people coast through life happily.  Why can’t I?”

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt; “The Walk,” “Lincoln,” “Premium Rush,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception“) reflects on his inner dilemma with his life’s choices and the trajectory he is on.

Trice-Oscar winner, director Oliver Stone (“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps“) zooms into Snowden’s life and his infamous rise from obscurity by leaking the largest classified information concerning the U.S. government’s mass-surveillance operations.

The film captures the furtive meetings in June 2013 in a hotel room in Hong Kong between Snowden and The Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto, “Hitman: Agent 47“) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” “The Debt“) and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo, “Oblivion“). The interviews provides in-depth views into Snowden’s earlier years prior to becoming what arguably the most admired and derided hacker and whistleblower in modern history.

Snowden trained in the army until a knee injury disrupted his aspiration.  His sense of patriotism pushed him to find other ways into serving his country.  And as a self-taught programmer, that means behind the screen.  The reserved high school dropout, computer prodigy was accepted by the CIA and NSA, impressing and forming a bond with his mentor, Corbin O’Brien (Rhys Ifans, “The Amazing Spider-Man“), from the very start.  His brain earns admirations and takes him to posh jobs in Geneva, Japan and Hawaii, connecting him with high-ranking officials in intelligence.

Before mass-surveillance made the headlines around the world, “Snowden” takes us into a staggering ride behind the scene on how Snowden anxiously learns bit by bit about how the war on terror goes on in the cyber world.  The pieces become a puzzle, and an alarming revelation and questions about the legality and ethicality of our government’s conduct.

The U.S. government is not simply spying on targets, or even world leaders or corporation heads; it has backdoors into millions and millions of social media accounts, e-mails, calls and chats of average citizens, including front row seats into live webcams.  One may not have anything to hide, but there is an undeniably startling factor.  It may have started with the intention of thwarting terrorism threats, but it has turned into gaining political, economical and social advantage of other countries.  It’s a covert global program that doesn’t discriminate.

Snowden started with a clean slate, but knowing what he knows, including contributing into building subsequent programs himself, fosters fear into living day-to-day life with his photographer girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley, the “Divergent” series, “The Descendants“).

Snowden and Lindsey first met online.  Their first date is disarming and they instantly connected, even with divergent political beliefs.  It is a real one, a relationship tested during tough times.  His secrets and stresses do put strains into their lives together.  The film doesn’t visit the Snowden’s relationship with his family, so it is a good thing that his relationship with Lindsey is front and center, because it is through this lens we get to know Snowden as a person.

Snowden has a good life; a well-paying career in Hawaii utilizing his talents, a steady love, family and future.  Yet, he decides to leave everything behind, fully knowing in advance the consequences of his actions.  Gordon-Levitt embodies this complex, decidedly private and controversial public figure seamlessly.

The crux of the issue, which has weighed heavily on Snowden’s conscience, is that of consent.  That people have the right to know and decide for themselves.  It may be the Internet age where people leave digital footprints everywhere, however, these are instances where they choose to share their information.

Regardless of what one may think of Snowden, his actions have had far-reaching impact, raising worldwide debates about individual privacy and government transparency, how we could possibly strike a balance between freedom and security.

Fugitive.  Soldier.  Patriot.  Traitor.  Hero.  “Snowden” is a human, microscopic look of the man who may be one, some or all of the above and a relevant discussion of the story of our time.

Copyright (c) 2016.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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