Earlier this year, the film Citizenfour won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. But because the movie made less than $4 million worldwide, one might reasonably conclude that the details of Edward Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) release of National Security Agency documents is relatively unknown.
This is perhaps the reasoning of Oscar-winner Oliver Stone (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July), who turns the story into a cloak-and-dagger drama about the NSA whistleblower’s leak of classified information who then went into hiding from the U.S. government. The movie unfolds in June of 2013 in a Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden met with journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Ewen Macaskill (Tom Wilkinson), and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), the director of Citizenfour.
After four days of interviews, Greenwald published his first story in the British daily newspaper, The Guardian. The Pulitzer Prize-winning series related in stunning detail the extent of the NSA’s surveillance of American citizens, in direct contradiction to a recent denial — given under oath — to Congress by James Clapper the nation’s Director of National Intelligence.
Because the articles identified Snowden as the source of the information, he immediately became the subject of an international manhunt. He somehow managed to evade the dragnet and boarded a commercial airliner bound for Moscow, even though his passport had been revoked and the U.S. had requested his extradition from Hong Kong.
Upon landing in Russia, Snowden was awarded temporary asylum and has remained there ever since. However, this movie has revived interest in his case, and he has recently make a public appeal for clemency.
A presidential pardon is unlikely to be forthcoming, even though President Obama considered the apprehension of the “29 year old-hacker” a very low priority in June 2013. So today, Snowden remains a fugitive from justice charged in absentia with theft, espionage, and conversion of government property.
Through a series of flashbacks, we are informed by the film that Snowden was a high school dropout who suffers from epilepsy. He also has a lasting relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), his girlfriend who followed him from Virginia, to Hawaii, and then to Moscow. The movie portrays Snowden as a patriot who was willing to jeopardize his future in order to blow the whistle on the NSA’s violations of our constitutional rights.
Excellent (***½ stars). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and nudity. In English and Russian with subtitles. Running time: 138 minutes.
Distributor: Open Road Films.