CINEMA: The Man Who Knew Too Much


Artwork by MR DEKS

NEW YORK TIMES: Like those young men in a hurry, Edward falls under the sway of two antithetical father figures, a silky apparatchik played by Rhys Ifans, and an unbuttoned renegade played by Nicolas Cage. Drawn to intelligence work out of a sincere desire to serve his country, Edward is not immune to other attractions of the job. He likes the intrigue, the money (especially after he becomes a private contractor) and the feeling of being part of a select group of insiders who know how things really work.

But he is not a figure of operatic, tragic ambition in the mold of Richard M. Nixon, Jim Morrison or Alexander the Great (at least as Mr. Stone imagined them). Nerdy in aspect and phlegmatic in manner, Edward never takes a drink or chases a skirt. (His girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is played by Shailene Woodley.) And “Snowden” is, by Mr. Stone’s standards, a strikingly sober film. Restraint shows in both the filmmaking and the politics. There are very few wild, bravura visual flights and not much in the way of wild conspiracymongering. Edward is a rational, ethical creature — “responsibility” is one of his favorite words — and the movie takes pains to be reasonable. Its basic argument about government data-collection would not be out of place on the Op-Ed page of this or any other newspaper. And its dialogue and pacing would work just fine on television.

Maybe Mr. Stone has mellowed, or maybe the world has caught up with him. What used to be paranoia — the idea, say, that your electronic appliances are spying on you — looks nowadays like blunt realism. It can also seem as if the physical world, that bloody, sex-infused battleground of the self where previous Stone heroes have raged and fought, had been displaced by a more abstract zone of codes and algorithms. Edward passes from one realm to the other when an injury ends his career as a United States Army Ranger. “There are lots of ways to serve your country,” the doctor tells him, and soon enough, his bosses at the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. are explaining that the real war is being waged on computer and cellular networks.

Mr. Stone, well served by his cinematographer, the digital wizard Anthony Dod Mantle, and the composers Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters, evokes the chilly colorations and spooky undertones of our technological reality. The Hong Kong hotel room where Edward meets with Ms. Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) is an eerie futuristic box. Snowden’s workplaces in Geneva, Tokyo and Oahu are hives full of glowing screens and whispered jargon. MORE