Paranoid about privacy

Snowden: privacy vs. security

Whether you believe Snowden to be a hero or a traitor, this film is guaranteed make you more paranoid about your privacy.

Snowden is a docu-drama that explores the notion of privacy vs. security and one man’s decision to give up his job, his country and his life to tell the truth.

Based on true events, Snowden tells the story of Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA employee and computer genius.

On May 20, 2013, Snowden left his job at the National Security Agency (NSA) in Hawaii and boarded a flight to Hong Kong. 

On June 5, a news story appeared in The Guardian disclosing that he had copied and leaked close to 10,000 classified NSA documents.

The documents revealed numerous American global surveillance programs run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments.

The U.S. was not only spying on its enemies, but also on its allies and its own citizens.

On June 21, 2013, his 30th birthday, Snowden was indicted for treason by the U.S. government and while trying to get to Ecuador, was stranded in Moscow when his passport was revoked.

He has remained in hiding since.

Oliver Stone’s docu-drama begins in the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt — Looper, Inception) met with reporters Glen Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Ewen MacAskil (Tom Wilkinson) and a documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo).

The film flits back and forth between the drab hotel room and flash-backs that follow the events that brought him there.

Gone is the conspiracy-theory-loving Oliver Stone or perhaps he’s just gotten older and is now more tempered in his approach to controversial topics.

It is obvious he believes Snowden to be a hero, but the standing ovation he gives him at the end of the film feels like overkill as there is no grandiose climax to warrant it.

Snowden is an enigma and his personal life remains a mystery. We never meet his family and the scenes with his girlfriend feel empty and devoid of emotion.

Is Snowden as robotic as the digital world he dominated? It would seem so.

Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden with a gentle, bland sweetness. The real Snowden was a hard worker who excelled at everything he did and whose character seems to be above reproach.

When interviewed for the CIA, Snowden reveals that he doesn’t drink or do drugs.

His interviewer asks him what his poison is and when he answers “Computers” responds with, “You’re gonna love this whorehouse.”

Rhys Ifan (The Amazing Spiderman) plays Corbin O’Brian, Snowden’s mentor in the NSA. As one of two pseudo father figures in this film, O’Brian is one-dimensional.

The other father figure is Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage), a former security whiz who made the mistake of issuing a complaint about how citizens’ privacy was being handled and is now sequestered in a dead-end job teaching historical technology at NSA.

CIA operative Geneva (Timothy Olyphant) nicknames Snowden “Snow White” because of his innocence about how deep the NSA’s privacy invasion goes.

Snowden’s relationship with his artsy, left-wing girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley – Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars) provides some of the film’s lighter moments.

Woodley is warm and lovely, but Stone hasn’t given her much to do. As Snowden’s girlfriend, she follows him around the world and worries about how hard he works.

Stone is renowned for putting women in marginalized roles, serving merely as arm candy for their male partners.

It’s a shame as it is Snowden’s relationship with Lindsay that humanizes him and galvanizes his resolve to leak the data.

Their relationship is a metaphor to the relationship between the government that is responsible for our safety and our naive selves.

When they first meet, Snowden is pro-government and duty bound. There is a lot that he can’t tell Lindsay about what he does for a living and it’s for her own good.

Later, when his job becomes too stressful, he lashes out that she doesn’t want to know any of it and that she is happier staying in a state of ignorant bliss.

When Snowden learns that computer cameras are capable of being accessed whether the computer is on or not to monitor people in their homes, he realizes that he too can be monitored.

It is only when he discovers that Lindsay is being followed by his employer that he decides to download the data and uproot his life.

The fact that the real Snowden handed over all the data to the reporters speaks to his desire to call attention to the problem, not use the information for his own benefit.

Do any of us know, or even want to know, what goes on behind the scenes in order to give us the illusion of safety?

As Jack Nicholson said to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

Whether you are pro or anti-government, this film brings to light an issue that is no longer reserved for James Bond movies.

If nothing else, it will make you think twice about what you text, tweet or post and will likely have you covering the camera on your laptop next time you leave it open.

I give this film 3 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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