Film director Oliver Stone is in a class by himself. He has dared to go into the political mine fields where only a few other Hollywood-based moviemakers have ventured. Perhaps, the fact that the talented Stone was a Vietnam War U.S. Army veteran (1967-68), has toughen him up to take on the Establishment.
Earlier in his movie career, Stone caught a lot of flack for daring to challenge the “official” conspiracy version of how President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, in 1963, with his intriguing film — JFK.
His war-related dramas, Platoon, in 1986; and, Born on the Fourth of July, (1989), opened a wide vista for Americans to reflect on the horrific hell that is war. Incidentally, Born on the 4th of July also proved that Tom Cruise could act!
Recently, Stone has been brave enough to also take on the Wall Street Bankers in two fine movies: Wall Street in 1987; and in 2010, Money Never Sleeps. The Wall Street wise guys are the ones whose unbridled greed brought our America the draconian “Financial Collapse of 2008.”
Enter, in 2016, Stone’s Snowden. It is a compelling movie about a young NSA whistleblower, Edward J. Snowden. It raises important Constitutional, national security and privacy issues which strike deep into the American psyche.
Snowden was a brilliant computer geek, whose career path led him first into the CIA and then the NSA. Later, he worked as a intelligence contractor, assigned to the NSA.
In 2013, Snowden revealed to the media, particularly the London-based newspaper, The Guardian; documentary-maker, Laura Poitras and reporter, Glenn Greenwald, the massive global scope of the American surveillance state. Over the years, it had covertly devised “a bulk data collection system.” That disclosure scene is set early in the film inside a hotel room in Hong Kong.
Presently, at age 33, Snowden is residing in Russia, under an umbrella of temporary asylum, thanks to Vladimir Putin. The U.S. Justice department has a warrant out for Snowden’s arrest, charging him with violating the “1917 Espionage Act,” and other related criminal offenses.
Stone’s movie brings all of this suspense-filled drama to life. It jumps back and forth between Snowden’s 2013 disclosure to the media in Hong Kong; to his short-lived life as a U.S. soldier; his hiring by the CIA/NSA; his sometimes rocky relationship with his girlfriend; to his awakening — a la Saint Paul on the road to Damascus — that there’s something morally, legally and profoundly wrong with how his country was gathering intelligence on its citizens.
As Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a stellar performance that is worthy of an Academy Award nomination. He masterfully shows him as a conservative, shy, goody-goody, cyber wizard, and supra-hacker dude, who when not playing with his Rubik’s Cube, finally wakes-up to his part in the world of insidious surveillance.
Shailene Woodley is brilliant in the part of Linda Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend. She knew how to turn the heat up in their bedroom scenes and to play the role, when required, of the wounded female. Melissa Leo, whom I loved in Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana’s “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” is at the top of her game in portraying Laura Poitras.
Rhys Ifans gives a memorable, first-rate performance in the role of Corbin O’Brian, Snowden’s CIA mentor. Zachary Quinton was cast as the hard-nosed reporter, Glenn Greenwald. He brings the added intensity needed to give the movie some dramatic edge.
Bringing up the rear in this very capable Snowden cast, is none other than the seasoned actor, Nicolas Cage, as a crusty CIA functionary, Hank Forrester. Cage is very credible, and low-keyed, in that relevant role.
By the way, the real Greenwald, on September 16, 2016, blasted the Washington Post for “towering cowardice” for calling for Snowden’s prosecution. Here.
Ironically, the WaPo was one of the newspapers that first carried Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations and it even won a Pulitzer Prize for its stellar reporting. Go figure!
Other government whistleblowers, such as the courageous Thomas Drake, had previously shown Snowden the way forward on this matter. Check out this video on Drake: I Chose my Conscience over my Career.
The U.S. government doesn’t see Snowden as a mere whistleblower. It has labeled him a “traitor.” It wants to burn his ass! This includes elements within the U.S. intelligence community, President Barack Obama, a majority of the U.S. Congress and the hawk-ridden Washington Post.
“Big Brother” is looking to bring Snowden down and down — hard. Shades of author George Orwell’s prophetic 1984.
To check out just some of the classified intelligence programs, that Snowden has exposed, Check This.
To learn more about Snowden’s current status, and his bid for freedom, go to this Snowden-friendly website.
If you care about your federal government spying on you, go see Snowden, and, if inspired, then follow up by contacting your elected representatives on Capitol Hill with your concerns.
I’m giving Oliver Stone’s Snowden five out of five stars.
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Editor’s Note: Bill Hughes is Baltimore-based author, actor and photojournalist. His book Baltimore Iconoclast is available here.
Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. In his salad days, he worked on the docks as a longshoreman. Bill also played on three championship soccer teams: sandlot with Jules Morstein; high school at Calvert Hall; and college at the University of Baltimore.