Film Review: Snowden

Snowden

Oliver Stone’s Snowden mixes biopic with political thriller. It is an enjoyable enough watch.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden meets with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in a hotel room in Hong Kong. Intelligence contractor Snowden wishes to blow the whistle on mass surveillance techniques by the NSA…

How do you make a recent and very well publicised event an interesting enough subject for a feature film? By making it a personal story. At least, this is what director-writer Oliver Stone and co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald have done. Most viewers will be aware of Edward Snowden and his whistle-blowing activities, so Stone needs to offer them a hook. He does this by combining a biopic format with the minutae of the events that occurred in June 2013, when The Guardian first broke the NSA story.

The title character’s story is told in flashbacks marking pivotal eras in his adult life. Those who are unaware of Edward’s background will certainly find this interesting. It charts the journey of a conservative protagonist who wants to serve his country, to a cynical individual who wants to inform the world. In this sense, Gabriel Sol’s nickname for him, Snow White, seems very apt.

Edward encounters several characters that have an impact on him. Significant to the personal story is his relationship with girlfriend Lindsay. However, it terms of personal revelation, his relationships with colleagues and mentors is more pertinent. As the film progresses, the reason he decided to whistle blow becomes abundantly clear.

The present day activity is mildly interesting, but does not hold the same weight as the flashbacks. Whilst it is entertaining to see how Edward got the information through security, the later scenes in Hong Kong are less exciting. Here, Stone aims for tension in exhibiting the meetings between the protagonists and journalists, and his escape from the hotel. However, as most viewers will know about Edward Snowden, it fails to achieve the palpable tension the film is aiming for.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a solid performance as Edward. Shailene Woodley is well cast as Lindsay, as are Scott Eastwood and Ben Schnetzer in minor roles. Nicolas Cage is joyous in his small appearances.  The subject matter is certainly up Oliver Stone’s street. Whilst mildly entertaining, Snowden does not deliver the insight or energy of Stone’s earlier pictures.

Snowden is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of cinematic treats for Good Friday, including Gone Girl, Jersey Boys, and X-Men: Days of Future Past

Jersey Boys

The most surprising thing about the upcoming screen adaptation of Jersey Boys is that Clint Eastwood directs it. Not an entirely new genre for Eastwood, nevertheless it is an interesting choice. Jersey Boys is set for release on 20th June 2014.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The third X-Men: Days of Future Past reveals a bit more about the plot of the film. What it does not explain is young Charles Xavier’s hair. Maybe Wolverine reveals what is in his future, follicle-wise, so Xavier decides to grow luscious locks while he can. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits UK screens on 22nd May 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars

Here is the trailer for the upcoming adaptation of John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars. Starring Shailene Woodley as a teenage cancer patient who is forced to attend a support group by her parents, The Fault in Our Stars is out in UK cinemas on 20th June 2014.

Gone Girl

In case you missed it: the trailer for the hotly anticipated Gone Girl was released this week. David Fincher’s team sure do know how to cut a trailer. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, the cinematic adaptation of the best-selling novel Gone Girl is set for release on 3rd October 2014.

The Equaliser

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington stars as a former black ops commander who fakes his own death in The Equaliser. I am guessing that this film will be more action thriller than The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin. The Equaliser is due to hit UK screens on 10th October 2014.

Annie

The first trailer for musical remake Annie was released earlier this week. I only saw the original for the first time recently, and my lasting impression was that Miss Hannigan was everything. So Cameron Diaz has big shoes to fill. Annie will be released on 6th February 2015.

Sabotage

Arnold Schwarzenegger leads strong cast in action thriller Sabotage. With Arnie getting back into the swing of things, it is funny to think that the action star was Governor of California not too long ago. Sabotage bursts on to UK screens on 7th May 2014.

Stuff To Look At

A veritable profusion of cinema-related goodness this week, with the new Tammy trailer, Under The Skin and Miss Piggy…

Tammy

Above is the first Tammy trailer. The comedy stars Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd and Kathy Bates. Apparently, Susan Sarandon plays Melissa McCarthy’s grandmother. I’m not sure how this is possible, given how young Sarandon looks. Perhaps she is aged up. Tammy is due for release in UK cinemas on 4th July 2014.

Under The Skin

Here is the full UK trailer for science-fiction thriller Under The Skin. Directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson the film has been receiving critical acclaim at its festival screenings. Under The Skin is released in UK cinemas on 14th march 2014.

The Love Punch

Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson star as an ex-husband and wife whose retirement fund is wiped out when their company is defrauded in The Love Punch. This comedy caper also stars Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie. The Love Punch hits UK screens on 18th April 2014.

Muppets Most Wanted

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Miss Piggy looks resplendent. Her dress is designed by none other than Vivienne Westwood, who has also designed Miss Piggy’s key wardrobe for Muppets Most Wanted. The image above begs the question of whether Miss Piggy marries Kermit in the film. I wholeheartedly approve, particularly if Rowlf provides piano accompaniment. Muppets Most Wanted is released in cinemas on 28th March 2014.

Postman Pat: The Movie

Postman Pat can carry a tune?! This is apparently the case in the upcoming Postman Pat: The Movie. I am more interested, however, in the robots. And Jess of course. And the glimpse of robot Jess. Postman Pat: The Movie hits UK screens on 23rd May 2014.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

This teaser trailer has everything; Optimus Prime getting pumped with bullets, Marky Mark running around looking scared, Dinobots, and, erm, dragons. I’m sure more will be revealed as the release approaches. Transformers: Age of Extinction is due for release on 10th July 2014 in the UK.

The Legend of Hercules

This trailers is giving me shades of Gladiator and 300. Kellan Lutz plays the titular character in The Legend of Hercules. Having previously appeared in Immortals, Lutz is no stranger to ancient myth films. The Legend of Hercules is released in UK cinemas on 28th March 2014.

Yves Saint Laurent

Biopic Yves Saint Laurent looks slick, polished, and endlessly stylish. Pierre Niney stars as the young fashion designer who is catapulted to fame in the late 1950s. Yves Saint Laurent is released in UK cinemas on 21st March 2014.

Non-Stop

Liam Neeson has really carved out a niche as an abrasive but meritorious action hero of late. Non-Stop continues this trend, as the above clip from the movie illustrates. Also starring Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o, Non-Stop hits UK screens on 28th February 2014.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be ticking all the boxes. Writer-director Wes Anderson is most admirable, and the cast, including the excellent Bill Murray, is enviable. Also, there’s a cat. The Grand Budapest Hotel is released in the UK on 7th March 2014.

Divergent

Based on the best-selling novel, Divergent stars Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller and Kate Winslet. The sci-fi film is set in a future where people are divided into factions based on their personality. Divergent hits UK screens on 4th April 2014.

G.B.F.

G.B.F. looks like a fun, high school-set comedy. The film is directed by Darren Stein, who helmed late nineties black comedy Jawbreaker. I’m hoping for the same kind of satirical style from G.B.F., which is released in cinemas on 21st March, and is available on demand on 22nd March 2014.

Film Review: The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s The Descendants features a great screenplay and some good performances. For all its merits, however, the film does not have a lasting impact.

Matt King is a lawyer and landowner leaving in Hawaii. When his wife suffers a boating accident, he is forced to look after his two daughters. With his wife in a coma, Matt tries to reconnect with ten-year-old Scottie and her older sister Alexandra. Matt must juggle these responsibilities with the decision of making a major land sale…

The Descendants features a narrative that could have been quite sad. Instead, the themes are dealt with using a lighter approach. The humour in the film is a good antidote to the film’s emotional side. The film can quickly jump from drama to comedy, making some of the laughs quite unexpected.

The characters in the film are all well developed. They appear natural rather than one dimensional. It is not difficult to empathise with Matt, and the raft of emotions he goes through. The secondary strand of the land sale is not quite as interesting as the main narrative, although the repeating of the family theme is a nice touch.

George Clooney offers an engaging performance as Matt. Shailene Woodley is well cast as Alexandra, while Nick Krause does an excellent job as Sid. Judy Greer is also great, and it is nice to see Matthew Lillard using his comedy chops in a mainstream film. The Descendants captures some beautiful imagery of Hawaii. Music is often understated, which works well in the context.

The Descendants is a well-produced film and an enjoyable watch. It is unlikely to linger in the mind for too long after viewing, but this isn’t really a necessity.

The Descendants is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.