Here's another remarkable biopic from Oliver Stone, who has used all-star casts and intensely pointed filmmaking to trace the lives of such people as JFK, Nixon, Jim Morrison and George W. Bush. And now he turns his attention to whistleblower Edward Snowden. This is an urgent, skilfully made film that manages to avoid preachy politics as it asks the central question: was Snowden a traitor or a patriot?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Ed, a nerdy genius who never went to university but was spotted by CIA trainer Corbin (Rhys Ifans) and brought into the fold. Rising through the ranks, he moves from Virginia to Switzerland, Japan and Hawaii, accompanied by his long-suffering girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), who isn't allowed to know what he does for a living. Over the years, his faith in America's government is shaken as he discovers the scale of its data-gathering operation, collecting all telephone and internet information on every person on earth, whether or not they're a suspect. And he believes that the taxpayers have a right to know what their elected officials are doing.
The script tells the story as Ed describes his life to filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and two Guardian journalists (Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson) while hiding in a Hong Kong hotel, an event recounted in the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour. Eventually, this element of the story generates some proper action as the CIA tracks him down and gives chase. Stone orchestrates these scenes expertly, generating some real adrenaline without sacrificing the bigger narrative. And Gordon-Levitt is simply remarkable, vanishing into the role so effectively that the final dissolve to the real Snowden is barely perceptible. His chemistry with Woodley is complex and engaging (even with a gratuitous sex scene), creating a terrific central love story to guide the audience through the events.
Continue reading: Snowden Review
Oliver Stone takes a stab at returning to a nastier, more edgy filmmaking style, but simply can't escape his moralising ways. Indeed, this film looks great, with whizzy camerawork and kinetic editing, and a willingness to travel to some very dark places. So it's even more annoying that it's all such a cop out. Not only are the plot and characters undermined by half-hearted preachiness, but the film has an appallingly trite voice-over narration plus a climactic plot point that feels like a cheat.
The story opens with a scene of domestic bliss, as sexy beach babe O (Lively) cuddles with her hunky ex-military boyfriend Chon (Kitsch) in their spectacular seaside home in Orange County. Then Ben (Taylor) arrives home - he's Chon's best friend and O's other boyfriend, a tree-hugging scientist who has created the perfect marijuana plant. They've made their fortune as local drug dealers, and now a Mexican cartel wants in on the action. They're visited by a goon (Bichir) who makes them an offer they can't refuse. So when they Chon and Ben say no, the cartel henchman Lado (Del Toro) kidnaps O to whip boys in line. But they go into action mode instead. Calling the shots is cartel boss Elena (Hayek). And there's also a Federal agent (Travolta) working everyone against each other.
The plot has promise, and the film starts well, with sun-drenched photography and some strong character-establishing scenes with Kitsch, Johnson and Lively. But once we learn each one's main trait (Chon's tough tenacity, Ben's peace-loving passion and O's annoying stupidity), the script abandons them completely. We never have a clue why Chon and Ben would fall for O, let alone risk their lives to rescue her. We never know why Lado is such a cold-hearted brute. And we can't understand how Travolta's character has survived this long. The only person we enjoy watching is the scene-chewing Hayek, who seems to be the only actor having any fun.
Continue reading: Savages Review
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