Film Reviews


By • Sep 15th, 2016 •

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Director Oliver Stone’s SNOWDEN is a compelling, detailed telling of what led to Edward Snowden’s theft of those documents – from his point of view. For Stone, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hero. The film is set up to show you the environment that led to Snowden’s decision to steal the files and then immediately walk away from every material thing he owned, his family, his girlfriend, and leave the country.

Edward Snowden stole up to 1.77 million NSA documents while working at two consecutive jobs for U.S. government contractors in Hawaii between March 2012 and May 2013. The U.S. government believes Snowden gave about 200,000 “tier 1 and 2” documents detailing the NSA’s global surveillance apparatus to American journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras in June 2013. Snowden also took up to 1.5 million “tier 3” documents, including 900,000 Department of Defense files and documents detailing NSA offensive cyber operations, the whereabouts of which are largely unknown.

SNOWDEN is a love story. Snowden’s love for his country and the rights of everyone’s privacy and the relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley). When you have the star of a wildly popular franchise, DIVERGENT, INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT (and the video game and TV series) cast as “the girlfriend”, respect must be paid. When Snowden is too shy to make conversation at a government party, Lindsay steps in to help. She’s an extrovert, sassy, sexy and overwhelms meek Snowden. Their relationship is strained because Snowden is always working and cannot share any information about what he does with her.

As Snowden’s work life is increasingly secretive, Lindsay pouts and is bored. In the only real life relationship moment in the film, Snowden yells at Lindsay for being unhappy with her carefree life with him in Tokyo. Otherwise, they spend their time with romantic picnics, parks, taking photos of each other, and going on hikes.

SNOWDEN easily slips back to those days leading up to the theft. We see how he got there without a high school diploma. He had a very senior, powerful mentor, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). O’Brian has big plans for Snowden and keeps an eye on him.

Snowden told NBC that he “destroyed” all documents in his possession before he spoke with the Russians in Hong Kong. Yet, the U.S. and U.K. said that Russia and China decrypted over one million of those files.

Recipient of those files, Glenn Greenwald said: “If anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives. I don’t know for sure whether he has more documents than the ones he has given me, I believe he does.” Greenwald doesn’t say who the “them” are but U.S. officials have ominously referred to this archive, likely stored on a data cloud, as a “Doomsday Cache.”

We have only seen as little as five percent of them. Snowden purposely stashed the most damaging information somewhere in the internet ‘cloud’ where it could be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Snowden has revealed he did not read all the top-secret intelligence documents he leaked.

Back to Stone’s SNOWDEN. After making the crucial decision to steal the files, Snowden contacts documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson).

Recalling his move up the ladder at the NSA, Snowden meets some very colorful characters: Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage – playing his age and not over-acting), Trevor James (Scott Eastwood – fabulous! This is a stand-out part people will see and not a silly romance flick. It will establish him in the same sphere as Ryan Gosling), Male Drone Pilot (Logan Marshall-Green – so terrific in QUARRY when they take off that pageboy wig) and CIA Agent Geneva (Timothy Olyphant – I miss Raylan Givens).

When Snowden sees how much surveillance is begin done on U.S. citizens and the maneuvers to circumvent the law, his moral code is outraged. When the head of these organizations lie to Congress, Snowden decides he will course-correct the government.

The analysts are gleeful about how they spy on everyone. If a terrorist’s entire village is destroyed by a drone sent via information they culled from roaming data, they cheer.

I spoke to a good friend – who requested anonymity – who ran a high-level department for over 30 years for one of the government agencies Snowden worked for. He talked at length about the true impact of what Snowden did.

My friend made several key points. No one elected Snowden. An arrogant narcissist (as my friend defined him), Snowden chose to steal and then disseminate a huge amount of top secret, highly-classified documents. This theft cost the U.S. billions of dollars. His conceit will keep him in Russia, regardless of his attempts to return to the U.S. Supposedly, Snowden gave everything away. My friend and I agree – he kept something for himself as a bargaining chip. Wouldn’t you?

No one – certainly not Snowden – could possibly read everything he stole. Snowden doesn’t have a clue. My friend said that the extant of the documents he stole was severely damaging to the U.S. The public has not been told what was stolen.

Oliver Stone co-wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald from the book The Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena and Luke Harding.

Stone is at the top of his game with SNOWDEN, especially since he believes in Snowden. Does anyone ever tell the whole truth? SNOWDEN is Edward Snowden’s truth and Stone has given him an enormous gift.

Even knowing NSA is keeping your emails, photos, messages, texts, phone calls and purchases, people will still post their daily schedules for anyone to see.

Edward Snowden wants Obama to grant him clemency, a plea agreement, or, even better, a full pardon, because he helped to educate the American public about how the NSA violated the constitutional rights of citizens with its mass surveillance program. But, Snowden stole much more than that. And it is those files that will keep him as a “prisoner without a cell” in Russia – under 24-hour surveillance.

On a personal note, travelers are told that having their checked luggage opened is random. So why is my luggage opened every time I travel? I posted on Facebook just 15 of the more than 25 notices I found when I opened my luggage. I used to throw them away until it became evident that it was statistically impossible to be random in my case. Using FOIA, I began an inquiry. On day 30 – according to law – I got an answer. They were still investigating. When I did finally get a response, it said something like due to something, they could not divulge the information!


Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at


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