The Problem With ‘Snowden’
I would like to think of myself as one of Churchill’s children, imbued with a fundamental knowledge of what is required to be a decent, moral person. It puts me on the side of Edward Snowden, and this past week I’ve become fascinated by the backlash against Oliver Stone’s film about him.
In the UK and Europe there’s been no question of Snowden’s role as hero or villain; he’s seen as a right-minded whistleblower on an unaccountable, out-of-control secret organisation that damaged freedom globally in the name of patriotic self-interest. Stone’s film takes this position as read, and paradoxically fails because of it. Despite being the directors’ best film in years it feels if the world has moved on from his simplistic, unquestioning stance. Stone is no intellectual and has gone for the heart here, painting a human portrait of a technician who comes to realise, like those concentration camp clerks, that they are unconsciously facilitating evil.
But it’s not enough. We need to know more. Bearing in mind that knee-jerk Conservatives are going to stay away from the film anyway, we had every right to expect a more demanding, deeper script, an Aaron Sorkin-level study, not Stone going back to basics for half the film to give us Internet For Dummies. We get what he did, and the questions we need answered remain closed; at what point did Snowden decide it was imperative to act? How carefully did he weigh up the consequences? Stone damns Obama and Clinton without looking further back into NSA history and how, like the FBI, they became too powerful.
The old Conservative arguments, that Snowden hurt others, aren’t addressed when they should have been. They could have been dismantled and dismissed. There’s a brief acknowledgement that Snowden’s worst fear – that an idiot in the White House might turn the spying programmes against his own people – may come true, but history has already overtaken the film’s stance, going far beyond this overly polite film’s worst nightmares.
And that’s the bottom line – it’s too understated, too happy to let the guilty off the hook, too retro. It should have been more demanding, more angry, and looking to the future – but it’s still worth watching for some heartfelt performances.