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“Snowden” is an important and entertaining biopic

snowden jiseph and shaileene
About a week ago, I caught a screening of Snowden, but the embargo was still in place. Now, I can more comfortably say that it’s quite good, easily Oliver Stone’s best film in some time. Not only that, it’s a top notch role for and performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title part. Snowden has been looming for almost a year now, threatening to be a potential player in the Oscar race, and now that it’s about to hit this weekend, I can safely say that it’s a very strong film. As for its Academy Award prospects, well…that remains to be seen.

For those unaware, this biopic is a look at Edward Snowden (played here by Gordon-Levitt), who we see go from dedicated work in the military that’s cut short by injury to the work with the CIA and intelligence community that will make him famous/infamous. All the while, he’s attempting to carry on a loving relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As he becomes more and more disillusioned with the government’s surveillance practices, he ends up deciding to speak out and show the American people what’s going on. Once he’s outed as a whistleblower though, the response is not exactly what he expected. Stone obviously directs and co-writes here with Kieran Fitzgerald (based on books by Luke Harding and Anatoly Kucherena), and he’s got a hell of a cast in place. In addition to Gordon-Levitt and Woodley in their roles, there’s supporting turns from Nicolas Cage, Ben Chaplin, Scott Eastwood, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Joely Richardson, Ben Schnetzer, Keith Stanfield, and Tom Wilkinson, among others. Cinematography here is done by Academy Award winner Anthony Dod Mantle. All in all, the talent here is top notch.

What worked for me was the combination of Gordon-Levitt and Stone’s restrained enthusiasm for the story. I also enjoyed Woodley, though her part is somewhat underwritten. Gordon-Levitt finds the character in Snowden and embodies him in a way that captivates, regardless of your politics. I’m always a fan of JGL, but he’s especially good here. Similarly, Stone manages to not go overboard on conspiracy theories here, instead just being dedicated to telling a good story and making a good movie. As biopics go, this is a pretty strong one. If nothing else, this gets Stone back in the spotlight after a handful of disappointments.

If we’re talking awards, there’s a chance this could be a player. Open Road is likely to launch campaigns in multiple categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (for Stone), Best Actor (for Gordon-Levitt), Best Actress (for Woodley, depending on category placement, though Supporting is more likely), Best Supporting Actor (for Cage, Ifans, Quinto, or Wilkinson), Best Supporting Actress (for Leo or Woodley, again depending on category placement), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Fitzgerald and Stone), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. Most likely, it’s Gordon-Levitt in Actor or bust, though Picture could be in play too if this is well received.


As a bonus, here is how I would rank Gordon-Levitt’s best performances to date:

10. Stop-Loss
9. The Dark Knight Rises
8. Snowden
7. The Lookout
6. Looper
5. Mysterious Skin
4. Don Jon
3. (500) Days of Summer
2. Brick
1. 50/50

Honorable Mention: 10 Things I Hate About You, Hesher, Inception, Lincoln, Manic, and The Walk

On Friday, Snowden opens and is a very solid option for discerning moviegoers looking to use their brains while in a darkened movie theater. It’s a top notch biopic that represents not only Gordon-Levitt going above and beyond, but Stone returning to the land of high quality filmmaking. While the precursor season may or may not embrace it, hopefully paying audiences will. This is the sort of entertaining yet informative biopic that rarely gets made anymore. Adult audiences deserve something like this, especially as we fully emerge from the summer movie season. Give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean…

Be sure to check out Snowden, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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