Hero? Traitor? Perhaps, both?
In "Snowden," cyber manipulation explodes with the equivalent of a nuclear device for which the security-balancing-freedom pendulum implodes in a world where data equals money equals control.
Famed director of political thrillers, Oliver Stone ("J.F.K.," "Nixon,") seriously grapples with the dramatized bio of security contractor, computer hacker and genius, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), allowing viewers a mostly neutral, non-glorified image of the man who released millions of National Security Agency files revealing how Big Brother can capture your cell phone and computer camera location and imagery in real time.
Stone assumes Snowden's 'whistle-blowing' motivations from alleged discoveries that U.S. governmental surveillance projects have stretched past the early terrorist target intent of intimately invading private lives of the nation's citizens without court approvals.
The director forgoes an intrepid depiction resolved to let circumstances present the case for each viewer. They are slanted toward the whistle-blower motivation, but viewers can easily foresee where he oversteps and harms the country's legitimate intelligence.
Significantly, the film does not postulate ensuing damage to defense and related objectives from the man's actions, about which Congressional committees still wail. It instead concentrates on social and political aspects, not revealing that his actions released, for instance, Taliban related items and those concerning Iran.
That said, the intent of espionage slides off the table; instead, a wrongly motivated idealist with a premeditated desire to influence power, becomes the film's greatest sin. Stone leaves ample ambiguity for a harsher assessment, but compresses timelines, for instance, which would dirty Snowden's hands, not to mention allusions to the rise of Russian expertise in hacking. Hmm, did Columbia Pictures turn this pitch down?
Facts presented in the film demonstrate how Snowden originally had a patriot's ambition, shown through his special forces training injury and his rapidity of achievements prior to his decision to 'leak' data to the press. Did the explicitness of privacy invasions and not-so-subtle governmental hidden manipulations cause him to turn from patriot to possible traitor, seeing the spoils of economic and social control?
Gordon-Levitt ("Looper," "Dark Knight Rises") contributes an absorbed Rubik's Cube spinning inception of an atypical nerd. When waltzing with encryption and cyber elements he has the confidence of a stud. He seldom dwells on the past or displays emotion, except when in the company of his photographer/artist girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley). The two have a chemistry that os hard to describe as they flip from typical gleeful lovers to leaps where their devotion and trust suggest a maturity enjoyed by few.
Otherwise, Gordon-Levitt communicates uneasiness through vocal tone, glances, occasional historic references and numerous painful conversations with his girlfriend.
The relationship maintains the strident 'out of life' glue necessary for personal impact.
On the other hand, Stone nearly worships cooperating media players handing them the power of infinity to have the best interest of readers/viewers (not corporations) as their foremost appetizing entree.
One walks out of the auditorium convinced that our military industrial complex has been replaced by the complexities of cyber warfare, which can insidiously plant seeds to incapacitate infrastructure or pull a string on a puppet - which we all now have become.