Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

Overly Flattering Snowden Sparks to Life Only Sporadically

Overly Flattering <i>Snowden</i> Sparks to Life Only Sporadically

Director Oliver Stone's hagiographic movie about the man who exposed the extent of the U.S. government's surveillance program leaves no room for doubt. 3 out of 5.


Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) couldn't make it in the military, but he longs to serve his country. The computer whiz kid finds favor with the CIA and National Security Agency—until he learns the extent of its surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Snowden's disillusionment leads him to contact journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), who document Snowden's revelations about the U.S. government's data-collection capabilities. Targeted after making the program's details public, Snowden flees the country and ends up in Russia, leaving behind the woman (Shailene Woodley) who loves him, but launching a debate about how much liberty Americans are willing to sacrifice in the name of security.

What Works?

Gordon-Levitt captures Snowden's drawl and comes off more convincing, if less charming, than he did as daredevil wire walker Phillipe Petite in 2015's The Walk. As Snowden's longsuffering love interest, Woodley successfully shakes off the teen protagonists she's best known for (the Divergent series and The Fault in Our Stars).

What Doesn't?

The film's structure is a bit of mess, with jarring jumps in time and an odd transition from Gordon-Levitt to the real-life Snowden in the film's final moments. The story's stand-up-and-cheer tone, including an on-screen audience who actually rises and applauds Snowden, makes it all too clear that Stone is lionizing his subject rather than aiming for any degree of ambiguity.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Snowden's deep loyalty to his country is tested as he realizes the extent of the government's ability to monitor its citizens, but he is unable to confide in those close to him. He is alone with the heavy, growing burden of what he knows. He shows no signs of a prayer life, professing admiration only for Ayn Rand's Objectivism.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity 
  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; multiple f-words; numerous uses of foul language; a reference to female anatomy; erotic thoughts are expressed.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: Kissing; a visit to a club where women are seen pole dancing; a class on pole dancing; Lindsay and Edward live together; Lindsay undresses and gets into bed with Snowden; they have sex, with Lindsay's upper body seen naked from the side and from behind; while having sex, Snowden believes he's been monitored via a computer camera.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Snowden falls out of a cot and hurts his leg; Snowden has epileptic seizures.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Stone fans looking for a rebound from his last film, the dreary Savages, and those who want a film that presents Snowden heroically.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Stone fans longing for a return to the director's peak form of the early 1990s, and those who don't approve of, or simply have questions about, Snowden's actions. This film is for Snowden supporters only.

Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, opened in theaters September 16, 2016; available for home viewing December 27, 2016. It runs 134 minutes and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Keith Stanfield, Timothy Olyphant and Nicolas Cage. Watch the trailer for Snowden here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

Publication date: September 15, 2016