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Snowden: Whistles Are Blowing over Oliver Stone's Newest Film


September 19, 2016
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War

Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan has characterized Oliver Stone's new bio[pic as an "unashamed mythologizing of Edward Snowden." TIME dismissed "Snowden" as "lifeless." I found the film, well-crafted, thought-provoking and edgy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb as Snowden's doppelganger, matching his voice and his focused intensity. Stone's film is filled with insider details and eye-popping cinematic moments. As a result, I'm giving the film a good review: Two thumb drives up!

Special to Environmentalists Against War

Snowden: Whistles Are Blowing over Oliver Stone's Newest Film
Reviewed by Gar Smith

I have just watched a screening of Oliver Stone's Snowden, a film that Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan characterized as an "unashamed mythologizing of Edward Snowden." NPR's David Edelstein, seeming to begrudge director Stone's history as a "gonzo conspiracy theorist," offered diminished praise, calling the film a "textbook political conversion narrative." Time magazine dismissed Snowden as "lifeless," which, I assume, refers to the fact that the film contains no car chases, fistfights, or bloody shootouts. No body count? How ho-hum.

I, on the other hand, found the film, well-crafted, thought-provoking and edgy. As a result, I'm giving the film a good review, to wit: Two thumb drives up!

(A note of caution: there are some deaths in Snowden -- real ones, captured by US drones that routinely videotape human targets on the ground in distant countries moments before they are devoured by exploding US-launched Hellfire missiles.)



Everybody Must Get Stone
Many critics seem to hold Stone at a distance, fearful of appearing too sympathetic to a filmmaker (and former soldier) who refuses to promote Washington's mythology of America as a benign "global policeman."

Edelstein, for instance, complains: "The funny thing about the movie is that it doesn't acknowledge there are terrorists and that the government surveillance equipment could actually be used to protect Americans. We only see agents blackmailing foreign officials to protect the interests of American corporations and using drones to wipe out unlucky families."

What Edelstein seems to miss here is that is the very acts of blackmailing foreign officials, promoting the profits of American corporations over human rights and civil liberties, and "using drones to wipe out unlucky families" are some of the very acts that continue to feed the growing, global blowback of anti-American "terrorism."

Clearly, there is more than a film review at stake in the release of this politically charged biopic. It coincides with a growing global campaign to demand that Pres. Obama grant a pardon to one of this century's two greatest whistleblowers (Chelsea Manning being the other). See link to White House petition below.

It is no coincidence that, the day before the movie debuted, members of the house intelligence committee signed a letter to the president insisting that he not pardon Snowden. The House committee also chose this day to release an unclassified summary of the 36-page investigation of the Snowden controversy.

Was he a hero? Was he a traitor? The bipartisan House committee made their conclusion clear, describing Snowden as "a serial exaggerator and fabricator" who "caused tremendous damage to national security."

(Snowden's defenders continue to point out that, to date, no one has produced any evidence that any provable damage has been caused to "national security" by Snowden's revelations. However, the disclosures that our government was secretly conspiring to deprive American citizens of constitutionally protected First Amendment rights has certainly caused profound embarrassment within national security circles and triggered extreme indignation on the part of most Americans.)

Big Screen Magic: A Stoner's Delight
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb as Snowden's doppelganger, matching his voice, his taut, taciturn nature, and his focused intensity. And Stone's film is filled with many eye-popping cinematic moments.

There is an early scene of Snowden as a military recruit, march-jogging with 40 other soldiers across a pasture at daybreak. There is a huge orange sun resting on the horizon as the camera, carried aloft by a drone, captures the platoon of yelling men as the day stomp cross the freezing grasslands and into the woods.

There are incredibly complex replications of the world inside little-known NASA and CIA complexes. These include "The Tube," a vast underground city with a commons that resembles a sprawling subterranean ice rink installed inside a space large enough to accommodate the Capitol dome.

There are cinematic facsimiles of cyber attacks that begin as infinitely complex flowing strands of code snaking through a black universe before coalescing into a glowing hemisphere of captured intelligence circling in an ocean of algorithms. The visualization climaxes with a satellite's-eye view of the island empire of Japan all aglow at night until it's suddenly thrown into crippling darkness as the entire country's electricity is unplugged, domino like, from south to north.

The cinematography is gorgeous, replete with shadows, insinuations, and complex reflections. The filmscape is matched by a soundtrack that crackles ominously with eerie cyber moans and static. These ominous wails are slowly relieved by the emergence of quietly uplifting scores delivered by piano as Snowden winds his way from the purgatory of the Surveillance State Wonk, towards the redemption of the whistleblower's state -- defined by fugitive status and life on the run.

Coming as it does in the aftermath of Hollywood's summer blockbusters, it's surprising to realize that Edward Snowden is, in reality, a real-life superhero -- an "average" young man endowed with superhuman intelligence and an unflagging moral core. Instead of Thor-like hammer or an oversized Captain America shield, Snowden's weapons consist of his mind, his keyboards and his signature Rubik's cube.

Stone has rendered a detailed presentation of the veiled world of modern surveillance -- the machinery, the deviousness, and the unblinking impunity of the powerful practitioners of political domination, malevolently personified by Corbin O' Brian (Rhys Ifans) as Snowden's mentor, a preening, self-important anti-Yoda.

Shailene Woodley holds up half of Stone's cinematic world in the role of Snowden's girlfriend, yoga-instructor-cum-poledancer-cum-photographer Lindsay Mills. It is somewhat ironic to watch Lindsay, who appears to carry a camera with her at all times, continuously snapping photos of her boyfriend -- an obsession that, ironically, places Snowden under constant surveillance. (Stone easily could have cut the movie's length by several minutes simply by deleting some of the 50 plus black-and-white snapshots that get posted on the big screen whenever Lindsey and Ed go off for a hike in the woods.)

It comes as a surprise to learn that, in addition to all the other risks and dangers that Snowden needed to deal with as he struggled with his conscience, was the fact that he fell victim to -- and still suffers from -- a life-threatening disease. There are two scenes in the film -- one involving steaming colander of noodles and the other, an illuminated camera-drone that crashes into an outdoor dinner table -- that trigger the disease, leaving Snowden writhing on the ground paralyzed by uncontrollable pain. As cinematic moments go, both of these scenes are remarkable.

To sum it up: (1) See the film (you may feel the need to take notes) and (2) support the campaign to Pardon Snowden.
ACTION: You can sign the White House petition here.

Full disclosure: I have a professional interest in Edward Snowden's campaign against electronic spying and manipulation. Early in 2014, German television's NDR News released the first televised interview with the fugitive NSA whistleblower. On Feb. 25, 2014, I reposted the interview on my website (Environmentalists Against War).

In the intro to the posting, I wrote: "This interview was ignored by US media and the video was inexplicably pulled from YouTube, while Vimeo reportedly has come under attack for posting it."

(YouTube replaced the page with a woodlands scene and a false announcement that: "This video does not exist." YouTube failed to admit it had pulled the video and failed to explain why they had removed it.)

I closed my online intro to the video interview with a wisecrack: "Watch it here (while you still can)."

It turned out the joke was on me. The next day, I was shocked to discover the video had been stripped from our website. In it's place someone had left a message that looked like a cryptic warning. It read:

"Make sure you have all arguments set!"

Interestingly, the "embed code" for the video was still intact and untouched in the web-page set-up files and the print transcript of the interview was left untouched and can still be read here.

The "nonexistent" video interview has since been reposted online and can be seen below.



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