There’s something remarkably humane and genuine about Oliver Stone’s latest film, Snowden that strikes as welcomed and unexpected. While one would expect the filmmaker’s look at NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to be a heavily stylized look at modern day government surveillance and privacy issues, it’s instead something more restrained and relatable.
Edward Snowden (portrayed here by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, mimicking his real life counterpart’s baritone voice, but not as jarringly as the film’s trailer suggests) originally wanted to be a Special Forces soldier before a leg injury squashed his plans. Then he put his off the charts intelligence and aptitude into training with the CIA to become a field operative, something he just didn’t have the faulty moral compass to pull off. He would then become a private contractor for the NSA and CIA. When he notices one of the computer programs he created for the government isn’t being used as it’s supposed to, it becomes the tipping point where Edward finally decides that the world needs to know how governments have been keeping tabs on people around the world.
Stone’s work here makes great strides to humanize a polarizing figure. While Stone seemingly sides with Snowden’s efforts to risk his life to bring to light heretofore unseen miscarriages of international law, he never turns Edward into a martyr. Whether viewers agree with what Snowden did or not, Stone wants to outline just how much stress was involved in his job both before and after the leaks of classified information.
Stone finds his anchor in Levitt, who as a performer clearly relishes tracing Edward’s transformation from a compassionate conservative to the extreme left wing. Levitt and Stone portray Edward Snowden as a sort of everyman who was able to pull off something extraordinary, illegal by definition, and uniquely helpful in many ways.