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Snowden (Blu-ray Review)

30 Dec, 2016 By: John Latchem

Box office $21.59 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated 'R' for language and some sexuality/nudity
Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, LaKeith Lee Stanfield, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Nicolas Cage.

Early on in Snowden, director Oliver Stone teases the notion of the constant debate over finding a balance between freedom and security, and how much we need to be willing to sacrifice one in favor of the other, if at all. However, it's a debate Stone isn't really interested in having in this film as he presents a protagonist whose decisions are increasingly motivated by the idea that the U.S. government is stepping on too many intrinsic freedoms for the sake of national security. And the way Stone presents it, it's hard to disagree with him.

Of course, if one is trying to get the real Edward Snowden to appear in one's movie, deviating from a non-critical portrayal probably wouldn't make much sense.

Snowden doesn't seem too far removed from a documentary as Stone dramatizes the events that led Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to leak classified NSA documents to the public, though some of the more interesting bits on the Blu-ray involve an interview with the real Snowden. He appears via a video-chat during a 41-minute Q&A with Stone, Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, who plays Snowden's girlfriend in the film.

Naturally, the Hollywood players recite typical answers about the nature of the craft and being fascinated by the true story. So, naturally, the fact that the actual Snowden is participating is bound to dominate the proceedings. He gives many measured responses on topics ranging from what it's like to see himself portrayed, to the ethics of what he decided to do.

The film version of his story is framed by his first clandestine meeting with journalists in Hong Kong as he tells the story of his involvement with handling classified information, helpfully accompanied by the appropriate flashback to re-create the situation. It's actually a fairly straightforward story, with Snowden demonstrating enough computer skills to rise through the ranks of the intelligence community to the point where he realizes the security apparatus is operating almost unchecked.

The dawning realization of this on Snowden plays out almost like a horror movie, as his paranoia starts to build over what those around him are doing with these tools, and how they mean to tighten their control over him as he begins to show discomfort with their methods.

Gordon-Levitt loses himself in the spot-in impersonation of Snowden. His performance might have come off as a bit robotic if not for the presence of his girlfriend, which grounds the film in some emotion and personifies his fears about what is going on.

Seeing the scope of the surveillance programs is both disconcerting and fascinating, and Gordon-Levitt's amazing performance makes the film much more entertaining than it probably should be. Nicolas Cage adds to that tally with a supporting role as a CIA instructor who seems ready to walk into another "National Treasure" movie whenever he's on screen.

The Blu-ray also includes about nine minutes of deleted scenes that offer a bit more exposition about what we see in the movie, and an EPK-level making-of featurette that runs about four minutes.

About the Author: John Latchem

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