Within the first 20 minutes or so of “Snowden,” Nicolas Cage (“National Treasure”), playing a teacher at a CIA training facility, engages Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Inception”) in a conversation about vice. The back-and-forth goes a bit something like this: Cage asks Gordon-Levitt what his vice is. Gordon-Levitt says he doesn’t drink or do drugs. Cage retorts that he must have a vice. Gordon-Levitt replies, “Computers, I guess.” Cage says, “Well, this sure is a whorehouse of computers…”
From there on, it’s just more of the same. A not-so-small percentage of time, the dialogue is unbearable. Quips like these are consistent throughout film. They left me and those around me in the theater laughing at the sheer absurdity of the things being said in supposedly serious, emotional scenes. Another highlight in absolute trash dialogue occurs after Snowden makes it onto the news after talking with The Guardian. We see Cage’s character sitting in a La-Z-Boy, smoking a cigarette in front of his television set in a ’70s-style home. He exclaims from his recliner, “He did it!” and the scene cuts away.
But if bad dialogue was the only problem the movie had, it could have still been a decent production. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie follows suit — at least stylistically, the quality doesn’t improve. At one point, Snowden has a seizure and Gordon-Levitt falls to the ground to do his best reenactment of this medical emergency. What makes it awful is the way director Oliver Stone (“Platoon”) chooses to portray the experience of a seizure. Snowden is cooking up some spaghetti, and his glasses start to fog from the steam. The camera and his body begin to wobble back and forth. The screen becomes stained with the same fog that was on his glasses. Randomly, the movie switches to a point-of-view shot as Gordon-Levitt falls to the ground, and in blurred vision, his girlfriend rushes over. The whole scene turns a serious medical scenario into a hokey plot-point action scene.
The movie mostly revolves around Snowden finding out new and creepier information about what the NSA is doing. He finds something out. He is disturbed by it. He doesn’t do anything about it. This cycle continues until the end, when Snowden (surprise!) finally does something about it. The story jumps back and forth in time between the interview with The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong and the events that have taken place in the last few years. Much of the movie is told with one of the interviewers asking Snowden a question and him narrating the scene that takes place on screen. The storytelling feels cheap, like a shortcut to certain events in Edward Snowden’s life.
The movie ends with an interview in an auditorium where Snowden appears on a computer monitor from his current residence in Russia. At the very end of the interview, the movie cuts back to Edward Snowden — the real Edward Snowden, not Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Dramatically, this cut to the real person adds nothing. It feels like a trick, like Stone is saying “Hey! Look! This movie is based on a real person.” Yes, we know.