‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ It’s an old adage to be sure, but never did those words ring stronger in my mind than after I exited the screening the other night for Oliver Stone’s latest film, Snowden. Of all the things that the world of cinema has lost during the last twenty odd years, I think one of the things that I miss the most is the cinematic voice of the once great filmmaker, Oliver Stone. There was roughly a ten-year period when Stone was churning out an incredible body of work in film that resulted in such time-honored masterpieces as JFK, Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon. It was a time I thought would never end.
It astounds me to think of how naïve I must have been in my late teens and early twenties to believe that level of filmmaking would continue on unabated. With Snowden I have to say that, like many other things, those days are gone and we’ll never see what could truly be classified as an ‘Oliver Stone film.’ That saddens me.
Snowden is just another in a long line of films that Stone has ground out during the last twenty years that bear little to none of his once trademark subversive imprint. With the exception of the 2008 film W., which I found to be a return to form Stone, there’s nothing in his filmography during those years that will bear revisiting. The films that the veteran filmmaker made from roughly 1985-1995 were filled with a sense of urgency and passion that’s sorely lacking in his output during the intervening years and I would lump Snowden in that camp. Snowden, on the surface, looks like a film tailor made to Stone’s unique sensibilities. The story of one of the most notorious leakers of classified documents since the days of Daniel Ellsberg and the publishing of The Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s is a multilayered tale that the Oliver Stone from twenty years ago would have knocked out of the park. Unfortunately the film has none of the sense of urgency and style that defined the director’s early work. It’s almost as if he’s sleepwalking through the whole endeavor and the film looks as if it would have been more at home on a cable channel along the lines of HBO.
The film is set up in a flashback structure as Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, doing the best he can with what little he has to work with) is preparing to famously leak the CIA documents that would make him a wanted man. The film is so predictably structured that you can almost set a stop watch as to when we’ll see a snippet of his time serving in the military or a scene between Snowden and his girlfriend (Shailene Woodley, in a thankless role).
I guess the worst thing you can say about Snowden is that it’s just a plodding affair that deserves better treatment. Considering the subject matter and the filmmaker involved these are words that I really wasn’t expecting to have to write when reviewing this film.
Snowden is playing all around the area.
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