‘Snowden’ is a fascinating portrait of a complex guy

What It’s About: Whistleblower Edward Snowden is a polarizing figure. Whether you consider him a patriot or a traitor, Oliver Stone’s lightning rod film “Snowden” makes a compelling stab at examining the details.

A dramatization of Snowden’s life from 2004 to now, the well-made film explores what events led to his decision to release top-secret documents about illegal surveillance activities of the National Security Administration (NSA).

Stone, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, presents the people behind the award-winning 2014 documentary “Citizenfour,” director Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and “The Guardian” columnist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), as they meet with Snowden in Hong Kong and aid in the expose.

Stone adds the legislative changes as a result of the information leak, and his exile in Moscow.

Performances: As the title figure, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (”The Dark Knight Rises”) duplicates the techno-whiz’s voice and mannerisms in an authentic manner.

The supporting cast is first-rate, especially Leo and Quinto as the facilitators of the breaking news story.

Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage excel as CIA characters, mentoring Snowden from a fresh recruit to a seasoned operative.

What Works: The film is best at disclosing the inner workings of the CIA and NSA post-9/11, and how valuable Snowden was to the government.

Stone has presented complicated material in an understandable way, superbly telling the story. The editing helps engage us, too.

What Doesn’t Work: His personal relationship with longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) isn’t as successful, and seems like the weakest thread.

This film is a fascinating portrait of a complex individual and we will continue to see this issue play out on the evening news.


  • Director: Oliver Stone
  • Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage and Scott Eastwood
  • Rated: R for some language and sexuality/nudity
  • Length: 2:14