The word coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival is Oliver Stone's new movie 'Snowden' is going to be a hit. The critics are sounding off and the reviews are surprisingly positive.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal as Edward Snowden is distractingly good. If you've listened to the real Snowden more than once, you'll quickly pick up on the accurate impression. His mannerisms also seem to be on par as well.
It's a fast-moving, political thriller complete with paranoia and intrigue. For those of you getting your information on him through the usual mainstream media outlets, you're going to be in for a shock. Although a feature film is not a historical document by any means, it gets closer to the truth than what you've seen on CNN or Fox News.
If you're asking yourself who this Snowden guy is, you may have been in a coma for the last few years. Edward Snowden is a former Central Intelligence Agency employee and National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower. He decided to risk his life to leak classified information in order to sound the global alarm on the depth of how our collective privacy has been traded in for security.
Among the revelations of his disclosures are the global surveillance programs, major cell phone carriers' participation in spying and tracking us via our smart phones, and data mining from 9 of the largest internet companies in the world.
Anne Thompson of IndieWire sat down with Stone recently and he was his normal, candid self:
Thompson: "Who approached you on the project?"
Stone: "I was going to Moscow at the invitation of Snowden’s lawyer [Anatoly Kucherena]. He had written a book. In January 2014, I met him and Snowden. I was wary; he was wary, too. By May I had made three visits. I made nine in total; we’d agreed to make a film, because he was cooperating. It would be realistic. I bought the book from the Russian lawyer, it was like a fiction, a “1984” book, and a second “The Guardian” book, and spoke to Snowden himself. There were errors —I got the story straight from the man himself, and brought Kieran in to help me."
Thompson: "You cram a lot of intel into this movie; were you worried about making it fun to watch?"
Stone: "It was a lot of work. I liked “Enemy of the State,” I love political thrillers like “Syriana,” with a lot of information. We had no violence, no guns, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not a heroic-looking guy, he’s a bland desk clerk. Shailene Woodley filled in as a powerful figure. That’s the way their relationship worked, extrovert/introvert. I loved the ways they come together. He was Ron Kovic (“Born on the Fourth of July”) a bit. She is the only link he has to humankind, who do you trust? The girlfriend in some deep way keeps him rooted. The pressure was intense.
Those nine conversations with Ed gave us density never dreamed of, dialogue, it’s complex. You get the idea of what was being done, just listening, you don’t understand it necessarily, I’m not a computer expert, but with the faces you sense something going on."
Thompson: "Was Snowden a rising star in the CIA?
Stone: "He felt guilty, having built [data backup system] EPICSHELTER, and was treated not as a superstar but as a rising figure. He had support, he was one of the first offshore contractors hired on cyber-warfare. It’s ironic that we unleashed it.
[Retired CIA and NSA General Director] Michael Hayden boasts about and is happy and proud that he destroyed Iran’s centrifuges (they rebuilt them in six months) with Stuxnet. They realized America started cyber-warfare, just like dropping a bomb. The last document releases of Snowden found the informant. There’s no end to cyber-warfare. No one knows who is doing what to whom, under whose command. When the next war begins, no one’s going to know who started it. It’s frightening, what’s going on in our lifetime."
No matter which side of this issue you happen to fall on, what we witnessed - an American hero or traitor - was a man risk his life to disclose information he deemed important to the rest of us. He may have very well ruined his life, may not ever be able to return to the country he was trying to save, and may go down as Benedict Arnold 2.0; but any way you chalk it up, it's our history and it sheds light upon an essential chapter in the battle between privacy and security.
Have you seen the movie, yet? If so, let us know what you thought about it in the comments below!
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