Oliver Stone has never been one to shy away from a controversial biopic. As the directing force behind W. and Nixon, it's evident that politically motivated dramatizations are his bread and butter. Enter the publicized actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden who leaked classified information to the press in 2013 revealing the depths of the National Security Agency's global surveillance. Some have lauded the international fugitive as a hero, while others demonize Snowden as a traitor to our country. And if there's a political conundrum in the works, you better believe that Oliver Stone wants in on the action.
As a loyal patriot to the United States, a young Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receives an untimely discharge from the armed services following an injury to his leg. Desperate to discover another way to serve his country, Snowden uses his tech savviness to join the CIA and eventually become a contractor for the NSA. Yet, Snowden's blind loyalty to his government becomes tested when he learns of their unrestricted surveillancing on American citizens and foreign governments.
Sluggish in tempo and detailed to a fault, the natural flow of Oliver Stone's Snowden proves to be an unwelcome experience. However, a fully committed and mirror-like performance from the film's leading star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, eases the audience through an otherwise bitter journey from patriot to global fugitive. One of Stone's trademark qualities is his ability to elicit transcending performances from his actors and actresses. The trend continues here as Gordon-Levitt helps transform a muddled piece of work into a tolerable watch. As expected, Snowden gives an Oliver Stone trademark slant to the politically debated figure and suffers greatly from an anti-climactic third act. Stone pushes hard to generate tense and suspenseful moments, but they never fully develop as intended. Consequently, Snowden comes and goes as yet another mediocre effort from the industry icon.