The film exists within two different timelines: there’s NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) holed up in a room with documentary film-maker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) and then layered over the top, there are the events that led him to this juncture. From his military stint to joining the NSA to slowly uncovering, and helping to develop, tools that breach the privacy of American citizens, his story begins to catch up with the situation at hand, as one of the decade’s biggest news stories is unleashed on the world.
The problem with using the production of Laura Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour as a framing device is that it ends up being a constant reminder of how this story has already been told so perfectly. In his dry and uninvolving dramatic take, Stone has made a film aimed at breaking out Snowden’s story to the masses, which does becomes a bit slow sometimes.
Apart from this, the film is carried throughout by Gordon-Levitt. It’s in his body language, which captures a man truly conflicted about what to do with the information he’s discovered. And that’s an interesting approach to the Snowden story in and of itself. In the days after the whistleblowing, and even today, many people still want to villainize Snowden as a traitor. It’s not surprising that Stone doesn’t feel that way, but what I like about the film is how deeply he works to humanize someone who has become a symbol for US privacy invasion and the need for transparency.
P.S. – I have started keeping the cameras of my phone and laptop covered after watching this film! You know….just to be on the safe side.