Oliver Stone returns to telling a story about governmental corruption and conspiracy, but the buzzy intensity of his most iconic films is missing. Framed by 2013 interviews with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), the story follows Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) after he’s forced for medical reasons to leave Army basic training, through his years as a computer prodigy working for the CIA and NSA, until he begins to question the legitimacy of mass surveillance operations. Stone places much of the narrative focus on Snowden’s relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), and it’s certainly important to make it clear how much Snowden stands to lose personally and professionally when he decides to bring secrets into the public eye, and the arc of his “conversion narrative.” But Gordon-Levitt’s performance feels to bogged down in mimicking Snowden’s voice and placid manner, while the biopic rhythms offer too few moments of visceral satisfaction. One great scene—of Snowden talking to a former CIA supervisor (Rhys Ifans) on a massive screen—offers a too-rare glimpse of the threat this story needed to make real.
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