Edward Snowden rose to fame when he leaked classified information from the NSA through The Guardian. Snowden chronicles these events, as well as the events of roughly a decade that led Snowden to what some consider heroic and others consider treasonous.
Snowden is a bit of an odd film, in that the most compelling part of the story – the actual leaking – was chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour by Laura Poitras, who was present with Snowden as he met with Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill in Hong Kong. This period of time takes up a part of Snowden’s screen time, which leaves the rest to cover what led Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to commit this act in the first place. The problem is that it’s not all that compelling. Snowden first starts working for the government during the Bush administration, where his conservative politics lead him to support the president even though he has doubts about some of its programs. He becomes more liberal, and eventually supports Obama in 2008 because he wants transparency. When that doesn’t happen, he grows more disillusioned and…well, you should know how that ends.
There’s a way where this might have worked narratively, but Snowden seems content to largely yank Snowden back and forth until he can’t take it anymore. This also means that a large chunk of the film is focused on his ever-evolving relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Gordon-Levitt and Woodley have good chemistry and deliver great performances (and Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden voice is eerily dead-on), but the film fails to make them more compelling.
I get the rationale behind making a narrative feature on Snowden, even with the success of Citizenfour. This film is more likely to draw an audience than a documentary, and for those who might be on the fence about Snowden’s actions, it might tip them over to his side. But I don’t see this film making a major play beyond more liberal audiences, and for those who have already seen Citizenfour, I don’t believe this will offer a lot of new information. It’s a noble effort, certainly, but one that doesn’t quite earn its presence.