Just been watching…(98)

Snowden (2016)

***Real events, so spoilers do not apply***

This film had slipped past my radar, so I was happy to find it showing on our free film channel, Film 4.

Many of us remember the case of Edward Snowden, perhaps the most significant whistle-blower in history. His story filled the news for a while, as he tried to escape arrest and extradition to the USA for trial on charges of treason. This film from distinguished director Oliver Stone examines Snowden’s background, his various jobs in the CIA and NSA, and his personal reasons for leaking the huge amount of secret information to the world’s media.

I appreciate that for many people, especially Americans, his actions are unforgivable, and he is still regarded as a wanted criminal, currently living in exile in Moscow. However, Stone’s long and detailed look at his life presents us with a different view of Snowden, and his slow journey to disillusionment after a career in the clandestine agencies of the American government.

Snowden was always a conservative, and a patriot; he joined the army to train for Special Forces, completely believing in the duty of America to maintain world order, and protect the freedoms it claims to stand for. Self-taught, with no college degree, he became an expert in computers too, with a genius level on a par with the best. After a serious accident during his army training, he is told he will be discharged as medically unfit. Still desperate to serve his country, he applies for a job as an analyst with the CIA, and is successful. He is immediately noticed for his talent, and completes training as the top student.

Whilst in Washington DC, he meets Lindsey, a free-spirited liberal woman who becomes his girlfriend. That on-off relationship and the difficulties his job places on it become a large part of the film too. But we are mainly shown some fascinating behind the scenes details of just how the ‘system’ works. In collusion with the British spymasters at GCHQ, the CIA begins to monitor email, webcam, and cellphone communication around the world, in any country they choose. Using the justification of the 9/11 attacks, laws and constitutional issues are overturned in favour of the dream of complete surveillance of everyone on the planet. Nothing is beyond their reach, and I mean NOTHING.

This is where the film scored highly for me, with its detailed look at just how vast that network became, with the technical aspects clearly explained for the viewer, though breathtaking in their scale. Despite the convoluted machinations of the agencies concerned, I never felt overwhelmed by tech-speak, or failed to understand exactly what Snowden was a part of. Use of flashbacks dealt with numerous back-stories in a clear and concise way, with on-screen graphics quickly grounding the viewer in time and place. With his work for the CIA beginning to trouble him, he resigns, but eventually starts work at the NSA, as a contractor. Once there, he finds that the scale of the interference in people’s lives is increasing exponentially, and he resolves to do something about it.

Breaking all the rules, and his oath of secrecy, he copies an enormous amount of top secret information onto an SD card, and flees to Hong Kong, where he contacts a film-maker, a TV journalist, and The Guardian newspaper. The secrets are eventually revealed, as we all remember, and every country in the world carries the story in great detail. Snowden tries to escape to political asylum in Ecuador, but when his passport is revoked by John Kerry, he is stranded in Moscow, where he still resides to this day. It was hoped that the arrival of Barack Obama as president would overturn much of the shady dealings of the intelligence agencies. But when he decided to let them continue ‘In the interests of security’, all of Snowden’s efforts came to nothing.

The film has an excellent cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb as Snowden, and totally believable. Welsh actor Rhys Ifans impresses as one of the top CIA trainers, and Nicholas Cage plays against type as a world-weary code-breaker. Filmed mostly in Europe and Hong Kong, for obvious reasons, locations feel convincing, and despite a long running time, it had my attention from start to finish. This is an important film about a serious subject, and something we should all try to inform ourselves about.

And you won’t leave your laptop open after watching this, I assure you.

51 thoughts on “Just been watching…(98)

  1. Thank you for the review, Pete! The movie works for me, as i love stories about secret services, and the mysterious things. I very much regret that there are no new episodes left by Spooks, a very famous – half fictional – BBC series, i think. Ever better as Inspector Barnaby. Lol Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post πŸ™‚ Personally, I have a mixed opinion of the film and thought that Laura Poitras 2014 documentary Citizenfour did a much better job of covering Edward Snowden.I had high expectations for the film Snowden just based on it being prime Oliver Stone material, but after watching it, one can’t help but feel that compared to Citizenfour, Snowden just doesn’t feel hard hitting enough. Though I do nod in agreement with the closing laptop comment of yours. Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have seen and reviewed Citizen Four previously, John. I agree that it is a better overview of the story, but Stone’s film also made it very accessible to many who may not watch documentaries.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. I think people cared but were to scared and over whelmed to react or maybe not… I’m amazed at how 50% of the population in Canada doesn’t even know what Trudeau gate is all about. Blinders are comfort to most people and that works into the hands of corruption unfortunately.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this post yesterday. It prompted me to watch the movie last night. As your review stated, it is well made so anyone could understand it. There is nothing private anymore. We have all accepted it to the point of no return. I just try not to put anything online I don’t have to. One tip everyone should follow. Put tape over your camera lens for you laptop, or desktop. I sometimes just throw a rag over mine. Not that anybody would want to see me in my boxers. I just don’t want to think I traumatized someone seeing my 67 year old bones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ron. I am glad that you enjoyed the film, based on my recommendation. Given your expertise in computers, I guessed that you already knew many of the facts disclosed in it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a good film, Theo. I think every ‘concerned American’ should watch it.
      You might think twice about the value of your Constitution afterwards.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  4. I watched this last summer and became quite paranoid after that about the amount and depth of surveillance being done around the world. So much so that I stuck a Band-Aid (plaster) over my laptop camera. When a friend saw what I had done, he said, “You must have watched the movie ‘Snowden'” … A very good movie though.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think I will enjoy this one, thanks for the review as I wasn’t aware of the film, although I’m familiar with Snowden.
    I often think that it is quite hypocritical of many western powers to criticise some other nations about control when they are in fact just as guilty.
    Its always a good idea to keep a post it note over your camera on the laptop thats for sure πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have missed out on this film, and I’m not quite that familiar with the story itself. It always surprises me these days how much of our privacy is invaded as pretty much everything about you is known. You already notice it on a phone when you are visiting a certain store, where you get this message: How was your visit to so and so. Scary at times if you ask me.
    Your post has certainly convinced me to go check this one out! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you might be genuinely staggered by the sheer amount of surveillance that is possible, Michel.
      I was, and I used to work in Police Special Operations in London. But even then, I had no idea of the vast scale of ‘interference’. πŸ™‚ It’s a serious film, and a powerful watch.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I think we hardly know anything about what is really going on sometimes and how much they might know. Big Brother is watching you pretty much sums it up I think 😊
        I’ve added it to the list, and am defintely looking forward to seeing it 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I remember when the Pentagon Papers were released and all the stuff around its publishing…..then Snowden fascinating that he could get away with so much…..another reason I do not like the privatization of the intel community……good review…thanx….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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