Over the weekend I had a chance to go see “Snowden”, the latest film directed by two time Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers). It tells the story of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked thousands of documents in order to expose the truth about the government spying on Americans. Joseph Gordon Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) plays the 29 year old whistleblower from North Carolina.
The movie begins in Rio de Janeiro where we see a reporter surrounded by four or five dogs lying down peacefully and the man is typing away on his computer writing a story about the Obama Administration.
The audience is then transported to Hong Kong inside a shopping center where reporters Glenn Greenward (Zachary Quinto) and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) from The Guardian are waiting for Snowden. He arrives flipping a Rubik’s Cube with his fingers (that will have significance later on) and then they all head to the Mira Hotel where he would stay for a week and tell his story to reporters.
This movie is told in a series of days and flashbacks, the first occurs in 2004 when we see a young Edward Snowden in the Army marching in a platoon trying to become a Special Forces officer. The dream ends for him when one morning he falls out of his top bunk and he breaks his leg, and that’s the end of his Army career. He’s informed if it breaks again paralysis might occur, and is discharged.
Occasionally we go back to the hotel to check in on everyone, and quickly writer Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkerson) from the Guardian was introduced because everyone was working on so many different stories about this.
As we return to the story we fast forward a couple of years later Snowden interviews for a position at the CIA by going through a lie detector along with some other exams. When asked by CIA instructor Corban O’Brien (Rhys Ifans) why he wanted to join the CIA he replied “Sounds cool to have a top clearance”.
His first day at the Agency he is trying to find a classroom and stumbles into the wrong room and we met Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage) and they strike up a friendship. This is where Ed first discovers the Rubik’s Cube sitting on his desk.
The first day in O’Brien’s class brings a nearly impossible task with having to set up a network and protect it. He didn’t waste anytime showing off his skills either completing it in a mere 38 minutes, a task that would normally take hours to complete.
During this time he had communicating with a woman on the Internet, her name was Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) they decided to finally meet up in a local coffee house and they go for a walk. Along the way she takes black and white photos of him as they stroll in front of the White House. I think this is an incredible double entendre because not only is it a great shot, but the conversation that takes place is about their freedoms that they enjoy as Americans.
As their romance begins to blossom… so did Snowden’s career. In 2007 he was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland uncover diplomatic cover. His real mission was to maintain computer network security, and one night the CIA got a Swiss bank drunk and encouraged him to drive home fully knowing that he would get arrested. He was told to call the police, but refused. It was here that Snowden learned how to spy on almost anyone just but punching in a few keywords. It became evident to him that’s what happened when Marwan Al- Kirmani’s (Bhasker Patel) young daughter overdosed on sleeping pills because they dug up dirt on her boyfriend.
You can clearly see that throughout the film his paranoid grows, and his relationship with Lindsay takes a serious toll because of trust issues. Eventually, he resigns from the CIA due to “personal differences”.
His next stop was Japan in 2009 where he landed his job with the NSA (National Security Administration) as a contractor. His job here is to instruct top officials and military officers on how to defend their networks from Chinese hackers. As his role increases and is watching people’s lives he becomes very paranoid and even question’s Lindsay’s motives. One night Ed arrives home late from and when they start to become intimate he wonders if the camera in Lindsay’s computer is watching them. This paranoid would eventually grow to the point where she has to leave for awhile to reevaluate his life, but eventually would return. He spend the next four years of his life with them before transferring to Oahu, Hawaii in 2012. It was named “The Tunnel”, and was developed specifically for counterintelligence.
Snowden’s breaking point was when he found that his program “Epic Shelter” was used tracking down bad guys instead of it’s intended use.. which was to combine all of the programs because there was SO MUCH data. While at party sitting around a campfire with coworker, he expressed his displeasure with the government, but not before having another seizure.
Very soon after that he made the decision to get the files, and he put them on an SD card, and places it into one of the colored tiles in a Rubik’s Cube. After managing to get through security without a problem he goes and meets the reporters.
I won’t be giving anything away by telling you the climax of the story.. the reporters manage to publish the information in the Guardian newspaper and it makes worldwide headlines.
He leaves the hotel with and hops a flight to Moscow where he is living currently with Lindsay.
I think there is one scene in every movie that you remember it by.. whatever it is. The final scene of “Snowden” is where he is tucked away somewhere giving an interview on a robotic teleconference and you see Joseph Gordon Levitt as him talking into the camera and then it pans slowly in front of the laptop and the REAL Edward Snowden appears and finishes the thought. I thought it was genius, and expertly done.
I would put this film into his top five ever made..
- “Platoon” (1986)
- “Wall Street” (1987)
- “JFK” (1991)
- “Natural Born Killers” (1994)
- “Snowden” (2016)
This movie discusses a MAJOR topic in this country and that’s privacy.. or lack thereof. Whether you agree with what he did or not.. this movie will DEFINITELY make you think about using your technology.
If you would like to catch a glimpse into the real Edward Snowden, I would also recommend the documentary “CitizenFour”. It is with all of the real people that sat with Snowden in the hotel room and had the conversations with him.
I will see you at the movies.
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