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Somebody's Watchin' Me 

High stakes have never felt so low in "Snowden"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden is a special kind of patriot.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden is a special kind of patriot.

Sitting down to an Oliver Stone movie is always an exciting proposition. Whether you think he is a master provocateur and filmmaker or just a blowhard, there is no denying that he is capable of creating quite a reaction. In case you're not familiar with the man, lets take a quick look at some of his work.

This is the man who wrote "Midnight Express," "Year of the Dragon" and "Scarface," in addition to co-writing "Conan the Barbarian." He delved into chaos with "Salvador," displayed the horrors of war in "Platoon," plumbed the depths of greed in "Wall Street," and explored the heights of heroism in "Born on the Fourth of July" and "World Trade Center."

In "JFK" he took every conspiracy theory he could find to spin a mesmerizing film made of mostly conversations. He examined flawed men's presidencies in "Nixon," and "W," a flawed rock star's legacy in "The Doors." He told the story of Alexander the Great but made it a love story, and made three of the weirdest action/comedy/noir films around with "Natural Born Killers," "U-Turn" and "Savages."

Even in the worst of these movies, there is always an indelible moment or scene that makes it worth watching. He bounces between classical and handheld directing and different styles of film stock like he's a pianist unable to settle on a sound for too long. As different as all of his movies are, there is usually a polarizing and flawed human in the center. Sometimes they are fighting the good fight and trying to make a difference or lighting the world on fire just to watch it burn.

Edward Snowden is about as polarizing as they come, but Stone's film lionizes him through and through. As fearless as Stone can be as a director, this film is about as fair and balanced as Fox News. As the ex-CIA and NSA employee who leaked classified documents to the press, he is one of the highest profile whistleblowers in U.S. history—bringing to light the staggering amount of surveillance being perpetrated on the American people (not to mention globally).

The screening I attended had a live satellite moderated discussion with Oliver Stone, Edward Snowden and the film's stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. Snowden is still incredibly well spoken and offered a half-dozen quotes that will probably become part of the cultural lexicon regarding freedom and privacy. Stone and Woodley looked uncomfortable, while Gordon-Levitt just kicked back and smiled.

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So much of "Snowden" focuses on Edward Snowden's relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. It's arguably the driving force of the film instead of the whistleblowing, which gives a high stakes movie a slower, plodding momentum. After their fourth or fifth big fight, the film settles into a repetitiveness it doesn't recover from.

The film is very well directed and Gordon-Levitt is astounding as Snowden, but it doesn't come close to the intensity of the gripping Snowden doc, "Citizenfour." The existence of that film makes the existence of this one pointless, other than getting to know the man behind the headlines better. If that's the story Stone wanted to tell, then he succeeded, but in telling the story of someone who made such incredibly fearless decisions, Stone should have found his fearlessness as well.


Dir. Oliver Stone

Grade: B-

Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX

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