Does the world still need a primer on Edward Snowden? If the answer is yes, then Oliver Stone has performed a service by dramatizing the events that turned a patriotic young man into a disillusioned whistle-blower and, some say, a traitor. If you’re already familiar with this notorious figure Snowden won’t shed any particular light on the subject.

And if you’ve seen Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour (2014) you’ve already experienced the most exciting part of the story, when he spills the beans to a pair of reporters and a documentarian in a Hong Kong hotel. Being there as Snowden reveals what he knows about U.S. government surveillance of its own citizens is almost indescribably gripping and immediate.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt-Shailene Woodley

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is well-cast as the all-American boy who is discharged from the military after injuring his leg during basic training and told that there are other ways to serve his country. Rhys Ifans plays the CIA official who recruits him for the agency and takes him under his wing. Shailene Woodley seems a perfect match as Gordon-Levitt’s girlfriend who remains loyal even though he’s unable to reveal the source of the intense pressures that plague him over their years together.

Given director Stone’s own movie mood swings over the years, covering politics and the U.S. presidency, this effort seems especially tame. He shares writing credit with Kieran Fitzgerald, drawing on two separate books about l’affaire Snowden, but there is little if any of the fire one might expect from the man who gave us JFK, Nixon, and W.

It’s difficult to criticize the straightforward narrative for any other reason except the one that matters most: at this point, why bother?

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024