“Traitor, or hero?” is the question posed by Snowden’s poster, though Oliver Stone’s retelling of its titular character’s story is so firmly in the Hero camp that you wonder why they bothered asking at all.
Stone, who writes and directs, proves to be the wrong storyteller for the narrative of the CIA/NSA tech who revealed to the world that US government agencies were spying on US citizens without oversight. That story sells itself, but Stone overdoes it at every turn – characters split their time between mouthpieces for their side’s ideals, and exposition machines. Dialogue is constantly on-the-nose and heavy-handed, the direction straightforward and uninspired, while overwrought orchestral music crashes as though desperate to manipulate emotions.
The two leads make it through unscathed – Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his usual fine work, playing Snowden straightfaced – the kind of unreadable cipher you’d expect to find in secret agencies. And Shailene Woodley is good as partner Lindsay Mills, humanising Snowden and showing his softer side.
But these performances are in service of a film that doesn’t deserve them. Snowden is a missed opportunity to find the genuine human emotions behind a story that had already played out on a global, public scale.