Once the Oscar winning, critic baiting enfant repulsive of Hollywood, Oliver Stone’s place in the industry has gone from lighting up grandmaster to embarrassing grandfather with a string of curiously stupid disasters. Alexander: Money Never Sleep and Savages are the works of a director depressingly distant and uncomfortable with his landscape, a long way from the zeitgeisty provocateur he used to be.
On paper, the story of Edward Snowden provides Stone with ample chance to recover his balance and restore confidence in his capacity to incite and challenge. He’s used two books for the film, by the professor Anatoly Kucherena and journalist Luke Harding, and consulted with Snowden himself to ensure most extreme validness. In any case, doing your research will only get you so far and it becomes very clear, just a few unimportant minutes into the film, that Stone is obviously not the right man for the job.
The film exists inside two different timelines. First, there’s NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden squatted in a room with documentary film-producer Laura Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill. Afterward, there are the events that drove Edward Snowden to this point. From his military stint to joining the NSA to slowly revealing, and creating, tools that break the privacy of American citizens, his story begins to get up to speed with the current situation, as one of the decade’s most biggest news stories is rumored on the world.
It’s been such a long time since Stone was a significant film-producer and with the story of Snowden, he’s been given the motherlode: a critical and divisive story based on a hot issue that still continues to seethe on. In any case, in what must be either dependence on dated sensibilities or a wish to speak to the widest gathering of people possible, he gives us an excruciatingly Hollywood-ised retelling of an account that requires no gloss whatsoever. Snowden’s initial ascent inside the CIA feels like an expanded training montage produced by J Bruckheimer, even down to Nicolas Cage’s doubtful and ridiculous role as a teacher.
Be that as it may, the miscast of Cage is nothing contrasted with the staggeringly terrible performance by actor Rhys Ifans as CIA mentor of Snowden. It’s a strangely hammy and totally, hilariously misjudged professional low point for the actor, however his interpretation of the material is strangely intelligent of how Stone is watching things.
There’s little room for subtlety and naturalism in a story that is inarguably loaded with both, with events presented to us in an alarmingly straightforward way, diluted for date night at the multiplex. Similarly, the romance amongst Snowden and sweetheart Lindsay (Shailene Woodley, attempting her darndest) becomes unreasonably unmistakable, a computed move to get the more youthful female demographic that overestimates our inclusion in what’s presented as an equation based element. Their underlying spiky political conversations soon revert into regressive trope: he works an excess of and she nags excessively.