Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his┬ádecisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

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Charlie Countryman (2013)

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I only had the opportunity to see this yesterday, it being released nearly a year after the States received it. Maybe there was a reason for the huge wait because it will certainly not appeal to all tastes. It’s so clear this is a festival kind of movie, it premiered at Sundance and since then hasn’t had great reviews, which I agree with to a point. It’s a nonsense hollow script but I did love the art direction of the film and it’s well acted.

In Chicago lives Charlie Countryman (Shia LeBeouf), the film opens with him seeing his mother Kate (Melissa Leo) pass away but she soon appears to him as a ghost and tells him to live an adventure in Bucharest. Thanks mum! On the flight he meets a man who gets Charlie wrapped up in another adventure concerning his cellist daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) and it isn’t long before Charlie falls for her even if she’s linked in with the murky Romanian underworld and a brutish husband with a silly common name like Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen).

The strongest element of this film, I believe, has to be found in the strengths of LeBeouf’s role. It’s clear he’s loving the character and the adventurous roller-coaster trip Charlie goes on. It kind of pains me to compliment the man considering what a jerk he seems and the whole paper bag debacle but he is fantastic in this film. The emotions that he journeys on are utterly believable and he can cry easily, have that smarmy grin and his drug induced night is very well acted. The bond between him and Wood is a strong one and however Romeo and Juliet like the script may be, you do feel that they desire one another.

There’s good amounts of slow motion used in the film, utilised to bring home the dramatic tension more, it never gets tedious, it perhaps feels arty pretentious to have it but in some cases it works well. The chase is masterfully performed and shot and the slow mo underground face off is a cheeky little use to show off Charlie’s outwitting move. It’s clear it’s an arty film, with music and shots blending together to make the entire film feel polished and different.

On this note, the movie is one that relishes in translating this Romanian crime scene as sometimes magical and sometimes nightmarish. It’s true to comment that the film does feel like a surreal dream sequence for the most part. It’s a lulling film that makes you feel sleepy watching it, I don’t know if that’s what they were aiming for but that’s how I felt now and then sitting in that cinema screen by myself. I think the writing lets it down just because it’s so romantic cliched and there’s no real outstanding drama or twist to entice you.

There are gripping moments to be fair but it feels like Matt Drake, the writer was trying too hard to be arty farty, it’s a pretentious feeling film and sometimes weird is good but the beginning death talks and the bad use of CGI spirit wafting doesn’t help. It’s annoying too at times, the inclusion of Rupert Grint and James Buckley didn’t do anything for me. It felt indulgent trying to have some British lads on tour humour in there, it didn’t fit with the film and there subplot made no difference.

A sometimes good mix of drama, adventure and romance but it loses track in a careering maddening hazy trip down Surrealville. Shia is very good at angst and emoting hard to gain love, but apart from that and a somewhat effective arty backdrop this film can feel hipster-ish and messy. Watchable though.

6/10