With Snowden, Academy Award winner Oliver Stone delivers his most clear-headed work since the 1990s (I would say since Nixon). The film dramatizes the already dramatic tale of traitor-or-hero Edward Snowden, who is beautifully and completely inhabited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Anyone who has seen the superior documentary Citizenfour will be familiar with the film’s frame. Snowden is in hiding in Hong Kong and telling his story to documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). The rest of the time, Stone and co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald re-create and fictionalize the events and people that lead to Snowden’s tremendous act.
Anyone wanting to really understand Snowden should watch Citizenfour; Stone’s film will certainly provide viewers with what they need to know about Snowden’s treason and/or heroism—like how it was influenced by Rhys Ifans (the naked roommate from the underrated Notting Hill) and Nicolas Cage, who is welcome but abjectly superfluous.
JGL’s performance is the only highly commendable aspect of Snowden. The film is like Snowden 101 when a grad-level class (psst… Citizenfour) is already available to everyone. Both are highly watchable. One has Joseph Gordon-Levitt; the other is history writ with lightning.