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Movie Review

Snowden also known as “The Snowden Files,” “Sacha,” “Snowdenas”

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity.

Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Biography Political Thriller Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 14 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 16, 2016 (wide—2,400+ theaters)
DVD: December 27, 2016
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Open Road Films

Does this film provide an accurate portrayal of the facts?

What would you do if you learned your employer was doing something illegal, while justifying it as being for the greater good of U.S. citizens?



ramifications of National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance programs

government secrecy

balance between national security and information privacy

Featuring: Joseph Gordon-LevittEdward Snowden
Nicolas CageHank Forrester—a former US Intelligence official
Shailene Woodley … Lindsay Mills
Timothy OlyphantCIA Agent Geneva
Rhys IfansCorbin O’Brian
Melissa LeoLaura Poitras
Tom WilkinsonEwen MacAskill—Scottish journalist
Scott Eastwood … Trevor James
Zachary QuintoGlenn Greenwald—American lawyer, journalist, speaker and author
Logan Marshall-Green … Male Drone Pilot
Joely Richardson … Janine Gibson
Keith Stanfield … Patrick Haynes
Ben Schnetzer … Gabriel Sol
more »
Director: Oliver Stone—“JFK,” (1991), “W.” (2008), “World Trade Center” (2006)
Producer: Endgame Entertainment
Vendian Entertainment
KrautPack Entertainment
Distributor: Open Road Films

“The only safe place is on the run”

Many people consider Edward Snowden to be an American traitor who deserves harsh punishment for revealing our nation’s covert intelligence-gathering against other nations and their leaders. Others consider him to be a hero for revealing how the CIA and National Security Agency had been illegally monitoring phone records for millions of citizens while telling Congress it wasn’t doing this. Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” completely sides with the latter point-of-view, which will make the movie difficult to enjoy for people who have already made their minds up about Snowden’s guilt. For those who want to learn more about Snowden, the movie gives a biased, yet powerful, portrayal of a young person who joined the military after 9/11 to fight terrorism and gradually began to fear his leaders’ surveillance power. We see the process of how someone seemingly dedicated to his country could eventually decide to reveal embarrassing secrets to the press that caused national outcry and ensured that privacy laws would be enforced.

The movie begins with Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hiding in a Hong Kong hotel about to release files to journalists that he stole from the government. There are long flashbacks, starting with Snowden’s time in boot camp, explicating the long journey Snowden has been on while attempting to serve his country. When he’s interviewing to join the CIA, he lists Ayn Rand as one of his influences, and his future mentor prophetically repeats a quote from one of her books to gauge his reaction: “One man can stop the motor of the world.”

I’m recommending this movie with some strong caveats, because I think there’s wisdom in Christian viewers thinking about our submission to government authority and considering when it’s appropriate to question and push back against deception under the guise of national security. It’s scary to watch American hackers employed by the CIA invade the social media account of a teenager in order to manipulate her father, and it’s also alarming to note that Americans have faced much more scrutiny from our own government since 9/11 than people living in nations considered hostile to the U.S. I don’t like the fact that someone paid by the government could be watching me as I type this review, using my laptop webcam.

I’m concerned that there are other sides to this story Oliver Stone chose not to reveal. In a way, this movie is another form of propaganda, rather than feel-good entertainment, and pretending to be objective is not part of the director’s agenda. The lawbreakers in the U.S. Government are made to seem pretty bad, and people like Snowden and the journalists are depicted with great virtue.

There’s a European sequence in the middle of the movie in which Snowden must visit a strip club for work, and it’s followed by a sex scene between him and his girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), so I would recommend leaving the theatre for several minutes to avoid this. I can’t go into detail about how extreme it was, because I followed my own advice. Later, there are nude images shown on a computer, plus some pole dancers practicing (clothed) that could cause some trouble for many viewers.

I view this movie as only being appropriate for adults curious enough about Snowden’s actions and motives to outweigh some of the other material, including a lot of swearing. By the end of the movie, as we see the real Edward Snowden come out from the shadows (he’s reportedly hiding in Russia now), it’s difficult not to empathize with some of his choices made in obedience to his own conscience. You might leave the theatre wondering, “What would I do if I learned my employer was doing something illegal, while justifying it as being for the greater good of U.S. citizens? Would I quit? Speak up and risk prosecution and joblessness? Keep my head down and continue working?”

Edward Snowden says he wants a fair trial in the U.S., but he also claims our Espionage Act would prevent this, so he remains a fugitive. Whatever the facts of Snowden’s case, the film compels me to live with more courage to act upon my firm convictions, rather than staying silent and fearful. For that reason I believe there’s value in this story of a complicated man who made questionable choices from a sense of duty at a great cost to his own freedom.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy to Extreme—“Jesus” (2), “g*d d*mn” (4), OMG (3), “h*ll” (5), “d*mn” (2), f-words (24+), s-words (15), *ss (4), plus 3 sexual slang words / Sex/Nudity: Heavy—pole dancers, sex scene—unmarried couple, brief shot of bare breasted woman, woman removing clothes to underwear, kissing, sexual comments, bikinis, cleavage

This film is based on the book The Snowden Files, The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man written by journalist Luke Harding.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Negative—Oliver Stone portrays Snowden as a “hero”. However, Snowden is a liar and a thief. Snowden’s revelations do not change the nature of surveillance one iota. Snowden apparently has no value system that the movie references. He appears to be a blank slate with respect to theism. Snowden has sexual relations with his live-in girlfriend (who teaches “pole dancing”) for many years, but never marries her. His girlfriend creates “art” with explicit photos of herself topless while dancing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Gerry, age 60 (USA)
Movie Critics

…“Snowden” isn't leftist-conspiratorial propaganda… It’s a riveting procedural docudrama that takes a deep dive into what surveillance has become. …
—Owen Gleiberman, Variety

…As a movie, “Snowden” computes. It’s sexy, controversial, visually interesting. It’s also Oliver Stone’s best film since “JFK.” …
—Allen Salkin, New York Daily News

…Oliver Stone’s film doesn’t have his hallmark flair, but he and his star get the job done. …
—Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

…Flat biopic… a tad dull… sometimes disjointed script…
—Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

…“Snowden” is guilty of being routine… “Snowden” doesn’t add anything truly special to the infamous narrative. …
—Brian Truitt, USA Today

…Oliver Stone turns true thrills into dated Hollywood fodder… [2/5]
—Benjamin Lee, The Guardian (UK)

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