Blu-ray Review: Snowden

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Writer-director Oliver Stone's Snowden features a captivating performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as former CIA computer expert Edward Snowden. This strangely dispassionate biopic is structured loosely around the efforts by documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachery Quinto). Both are real-life figures and their work can be seen for anyone seeking a harder look at Snowden's activities (as documentary Citizenfour and in a series of newspaper reports in the U.K.'s The Guardian). Stone's movie is now available on Blu-ray via Universal Studios.

The top secret meetings between Snowden and the journalists (in a Hong Kong hotel room) are staged by Stone with itchy paranoia, serving as the best sequences in the film. The framing device of these clandestine meetings allows us to go back to Snowden's days in the Army and move forward. We see this socially awkward, but massively intelligent, computer geek slowly climb the security ladder within the CIA (following an injury that cuts his military career short). We also meet Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), with whom Snowden develops a long-lasting relationship. But Lindsay wants to know more about her boyfriend's secretive work. The emphasis on domestic life between this pair is the film's chief weakness.

Stone doesn't provoke throughout. Despite a theatrical trailer that appeared to focus on the controversy surrounding Snowden, who polarized the U.S. (and the world in general) with his decision to release classified information from the NSA's surveillance programs, Stone just tells his story in a generally straightforward manner. It looks terrific and, again, Gordon-Levitt vanishes into his role. But the subplot involving Edward and Lindsay's relationship woes is pedestrian. While never boring, Snowden never quite ignites in the way Stone's best work does.

Universal Studios' Blu-ray includes a few supplements, the best being a 41-minute Q&A featuring writer-director Stone, lead actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, and (live via satellite) the actual Edward Snowden. There are also deleted scenes (eight minutes) and a promotional featurette "Finding the Truth" (four minutes).
 
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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