Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Snowden: The Redacted Version
is Oliver Stone hiding? Specifically, what is in those extra four minutes of
his Edward Snowden bio-pic that will be released in Russian theaters, but he
wants to keep secret from Americans? After all, Thursday’s special Fathom
Events screening would have been a perfect venue to screen the additional
footage, but there was absolutely no mention of the “missing four minutes.”
Maybe he treats Russians to a shirtless Vladimir Putin wrestling a bear or
perhaps Snowden admits homosexuality is caused by a virus created by the CIA.
Whatever it is, Stone clearly hopes to keep it under wraps. However, there is
no question he set out to promote the Snowden narrative with the redacted Snowden (trailer here), which opens
today in New York.
is a shame Stone so thoroughly aligned himself with Snowden’s boosters, because
there is dramatic hay to be made from his moral ambiguities. Instead of a
flawed Shakespearean figure (who maybe forged a Faustian bargain with his
hosts), Stone gives us hagiography. This is St. Snowden’s confession, albeit
considerably humanized through Stone’s surprising focus on Snowden’s
relationship with Lindsay Mills, his Heloise (to mix early Christian theologian metaphors).
also finds himself in the awkward position of dramatizing the in/famous scenes
in the Hong Kong hotel room that most of the target audience for Snowden has already seen for real in Citizenfour. Yet, he is sort of stuck
with them, so Stone rather shrewdly uses it more an in media res launching pad
for Snowden’s biographical flashbacks. We see the patriotic computer geek who
was too scrawny to cut it in the Special Forces find his calling in the CIA
instead. Just as he dazzles his recruiter Corbin O’Brian (who apparently has
oversight responsibility for all U.S. electronic intelligence gathering, in
addition to interviewing entry level recruits), Snowden begins a romance with
Mills, whom he met through a nerd-culture online dating site.
Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley really develop some compelling chemistry
together as Snowden and Mills, even though the ten-year age difference between
them (per imdb) looks more than twice that. Arguably, what is most compelling
about the film is the way it captures the corrosive effect of secrets (and the
stress that inevitably comes with them) on a previously healthy relationship.
Ironically, this is also the film that also argues everyone needs to keep part
of themselves secret and hidden from public view to maintain who we are, but
Kieran Fitzgerald’s screenplay (co-written with Stone) somehow makes these
themes sound complimentary rather than contradictory.
Laura Poitras (here played by Melissa Leo) in Citizenfour, Stone somewhat perversely chooses to personalize the
issue of NSA surveillance and metadata collection. According to both films, you
are either Team Snowden all the way or you support Big Brother freely rummaging
through our email and cell phone data. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
They are alarmed by Snowden’s revelations but also concerned about the national
security implications of his document dumps. There have been dramatically
differing accounts of what information he supplied to the Chinese and even his
assurances he deleted all his classified files before his long Russian detour are
true, most analysts believe he has plenty in his head to substantially
compromise U.S. intelligence gathering. “Trust me” might be enough for Stone
and Poitras, but it isn’t for most Americans.
is why it is so frustrating Stone refuses to embrace the ambiguity of Snowden.
Far from undermining the drama, a more conflicted and flawed Snowden would be
more human and relatable. Call us suspicious, but the earnest martyr we are
being marketed smells a little bogus—but that should not be interpreted as an
endorsement of indiscriminate NSA data collection. (By a similar token, the
Snowden cause was not helped by the presence of the U.S. Communist Party
prospecting for new members in front on the AMC Loews hosting Fathom’s Thursday
Q&A with Stone in-person and Snowden via satellite.)
Disappointingly, we have yet to get the Snowden
film that fully appreciates the complications and moral-ethical gray areas of
his actions. Ultimately, Snowden is
an Oliver Stone movie, with all the historical excesses that implies, but with
a more romantic heart. For the true believers it was intended for, Snowden opens today (9/16) nationwide,
including the AMC Empire in New York.
Labels: Edward Snowden, Oliver Stone