The story of Edward Snowden — is he a heroic whistle blower? a self-aggrandizing dissident who endangered American lives? — is surely one that deserves to be handled with grace and nuance. Instead the job went to Oliver Stone, whose last few movies brought us lines about “wargasms” (Savages) and “Laser Fusion: The Future of the Sun’s Power and the Power of My Son’s Future” (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps).
Today brings us the first trailer for Stone’s Snowden. It’s very much what you’d expect from a project whose teaser included a slowed-down dramatic cover of “This Little Light Of Mine” set to an upside-down American flag. Painfully on the nose is the game here. For instance, how does Oliver Stone communicate the complex idea that Edward Snowden is very smart? Why, by having him play with a Rubik’s Cube, of course. According to the film, Snowden also passes standardized tests that normally take five hours, in just 40 minutes. “38 minutes, sir,” corrects Snowden, a pedant and prodigy both.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden, joined by Melissa Leo as Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras, Zachary Quinto as No Place To Hide author Glenn Greenwald, and Tom Wilkinson as Guardian journalist Ewan McAskill. Nic Cage and Shailene Woodley fit in there somewhere as well. And best of all, Open Road pushed the release date from May to September, supposedly in the hopes of putting it in awards contention.
I’m not sure what awards Snowden might be in contention for, is there one for “best visual depiction of the internet using sweet graphics?”
…Because that is truly a sweet graphic. Michael Mann did something similar in the comically bad hacker thriller, Blackhat. Someone should start a Tumblr dedicated to directors trying to visually depict the internet.
Snowden‘s characters also talk like they’re trying to explain the plot to a 12-year-old. “Most Americans don’t want freedom,” Snowden’s NSA handler played by Rhys Ifans says. “They want security.”
Oh! Is that what this story is about? Please, Mr. Stone, guide me through the levels.
A scene where Snowden climactically copies files? Yep. Has a revelation while in bed with a sexy lady? Check. Takes advice from Nic Cage? Hides the copied files inside his trusty Rubik’s Cube? Wait, what? I actually have to hand it to Oliver Stone there, he mixes in just enough surrealistic touches with the painfully predictable ones that you have to wonder if this is going to be so bad it’s good. A real possibility.
Also, Rhys Ifans talks to Gordon-Levitt through a video monitor that’s as big as an entire wall at one point. You know, just in case you missed the Big Brother parallels. Did you miss those? Don’t worry, you can always count on Oliver Stone to remind you what he just did there.
Really, the biggest surprise of this trailer is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s dingus voice. I’ve heard the real Edward Snowden speak, and I’m not saying JGL’s accent is entirely inaccurate, but there’s a reason movies hire sexy actors to play real people — sometimes we don’t want perfect realism. Surely, one of those times is when the protagonist has a breathy dingus voice. You never go full breathy dingus. Save it for the Vera DeMilo biopic.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.