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Snowden: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Snowden (2016) movie poster Snowden

Theatrical Release: September 13, 2016 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Oliver Stone / Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone (screenplay); Luke Harding (The Guardian book The Snowden Files), Anatoly Kucherena (book The Time of the Octopus)

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Edward J. Snowden), Shailene Woodley (Lindsay Mills), Melissa Leo (Laura Poitras), Zachary Quinto (Glenn Greenwald), Tom Wilkinson (Ewen MacAskill), Scott Eastwood (Trevor James), Logan Marshall-Green (Male Drone Pilot), Timothy Olyphant (CIA Agent Geneva), Ben Schnetzer (Gabriel Sol), LaKeith Lee Stanfield (Patrick Haynes), Joely Richardson (Janine Gibson), Ben Chaplin (Robert Tibbo), Rhys Ifans (Corbin O'Brian), Nicolas Cage (Hank Forrester), Bhasker Patel (Marwan Al-Kirmani), Edward Snowden (Himself)

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The story of CIA agent turned whistleblower Edward Snowden has been told in a variety of mediums including Laura Poitras' effective Citizenfour, 2014's Oscar winner for Best Feature Documentary.
Is there enough to Snowden's tale to lend to a narrative film dramatizing it? At least one filmmaker thought so: Oliver Stone, a director famous for his outspoken politics, interest in current affairs, and belief in conspiracies.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt assumes the title role of Snowden, a film that explores the young man's life between 2004 and his news-making 2013 leak to journalists of classified intelligence documents. Gordon-Levitt impressively adopts and commits to a deeper voice that closely resembles that of the real Snowden. The necessity of that choice is easy to question, but Gordon-Levitt proves himself up to that vocal challenge, a year after skillfully portraying French tightrope walker Philippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis' underappreciated The Walk.

Controversial CIA and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) bristles at the unexpected ringing of a telephone in his Hong Kong hotel room in Oliver Stone's "Snowden."

After being dismissed from military training due to a freak accident, Snowden, an extremely intelligent high school dropout, applies to the CIA and is narrowly accepted by Corbin O'Brian (an uncharacteristically imposing Rhys Ifans), who becomes his principal instructor and mentor there. Snowden wows O'Brian and his peers by completing his first test, which has an average completion time of 5 hours, in just 38 minutes.

In the course of his work at the agency, Snowden is soon exposed to the eye-opening access the government has to the lives and connections of not just suspected terrorists but ordinary American citizens. Among his missions is to find a vulnerable banker and disrupt his life to serve the agency's means. Along the way, Snowden meets photographer and pole dancer Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), who quickly figures out his occupation and becomes a serious girlfriend to whom he cannot disclose the nature of his work.

Snowden's experiences in intelligence breed some understandable paranoia in him, as he places tape over the easily hijacked webcam on Lindsay's computer and begins to fear his home is bugged. The film bounces between Snowden's work and the principal setting of Citizenfour, the Hong Kong hotel room where in a white t-shirt he opens up to Poitras (played by Melissa Leo), American journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and Scottish Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson).

Snowden's mentor (Rhys Ifans) questions his methods and pries into his private life during this amusingly framed Internet video call.

Snowden is long and a tad meandering. His story fascinates more than that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which was dramatized in the Benedict Cumberbatch flop The Fifth Estate, but less than Mark Zuckerberg, whose life became the gold standard of modern biopics in David Fincher's outstanding The Social Network. Stone and his co-screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald (The Homesman) paint a complex portrait of their hero without ever once showing his family or upbringing.
They do not do the best job of making us understand why Snowden essentially throws his life away to expose the extent of government surveillance, though it at least makes the point that he does this out of some sense of duty. Like Assange, what Snowden did in many ways is the bigger story than anything revealed in his leaked documents at least to the viewer looking for a human interest story having already accepted privacy's non-existence in today's world.

There are a lot of elements in Snowden that compel, from the use of real news footage to a pudgy Nicolas Cage turning up in a legitimate theatrical release as an embittered CIA engineer who befriends Snowden. As a whole, though, the film never sizzles the way it must have in Stone's mind. He's been searching for a comeback vehicle forever, turning to such watershed issues as George W. Bush's presidency and 9/11, to no real avail. It's been a quarter-century since Stone last really commanded the attention of the public and the industry with JFK. His ability to assemble casts rich with in-demand talent proves he's not irrelevant and his distant Oscar-winning hits like Platoon and Wall Street are not forgotten.

Delayed from its scheduled Christmas 2015 opening to May 2016, but not actually releasing in theaters until September, four months after a Cannes Film Festival premiere, Snowden drew mixed reviews and struggled to find a huge audience, grossing just $21.6 million domestic in distribution by Open Road Films and a mere $9.8 M overseas despite a $40 M production budget. It arrived on Blu-ray combo pack and DVD this week from Open Roads' home video partner Universal.

Snowden: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 27, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9 & BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


Snowden doesn't opt for the bold Oliver Stone style of yore. Instead, its 2.40:1 visuals maintain a slick and sleek appearance that the Blu-ray presents without incident. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is suitably engaging and perhaps a bit more immersive than you expect the material to be. Burned-in subtitles are used to translate the tiny bit of American Sign Language.

A gallery exhibits the art of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) in this deleted scene. Though his in-theater PSA may be MIA, Oliver Stone still shares his voice in the making-of featurette "Finding the Truth."


On both Blu-ray and DVD, Snowden is joined by three bonus features.

First up comes a deleted scenes section holding five scenes (8:51). They include an extended look at Snowden's CIA training, a scene of the journalists meeting, a gallery opening for Lindsay's art (introducing Snowden to a potential love rival), an additional appearance by Scott Eastwood's character, and a hotel room scene of monitoring the scoop's coverage.

Next up, "Finding the Truth" (3:57) is a short, brisk, slick making-of featurette driven by a mix of film clips, talking heads, and a touch of behind-the-scenes footage.

An Internet connection isn't to blame for you seeing double, as a Q & A split-screen shows both Edward Snowden and the actor portraying him, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The Snowden DVD main menu is simply adapted from a poster design.

Last but not least comes a 41-minute Q & A session, moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz and attended by Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt,

and Shailene Woodley. These filmmakers, however, are upstaged by Edward Snowden himself, speaking via Internet connection. One of the more flavorful Q & A sessions I've encountered, this piece gathers insight not just on Snowden the movie but on what Snowden's whistleblowing uncovered and the meaning and threat of privacy today. The session closes with a birthday cake for Stone.

Sadly absent here: Oliver Stone's very Oliver Stoney turn-off-your-cell-phone PSA that preceded the film in theaters, in which the director cited the smart, powerful handheld device as having the capability to burn your life down to the ground. How could that not have been preserved here? At least there's YouTube.

The discs open with short trailers for Bleed for This, Jason Bourne, and Anthropoid plus longer ones for Denial and Hitchcock/Truffaut. Neither these nor Snowden's own trailer is accessible by menu, but the DVD's Previews page does hold additional ads for Triple 9, Spotlight, Dope, The Gunman, Rosewater, Nightcrawler, Chef, and End of Watch, with an option to play them all. (The Blu-ray opts to instead load fresh previews from the Internet.)

The main menu applies some score over a basic adaptation of poster art. The Blu-ray lets you resume playback but subjects you to the disc-loading trailers again if you don't take it up on that offer.

The two plainly-labeled discs share a slipcovered standard blue keepcase with your Digital HD insert.

A brightly-lit Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is all smiles, having escaped with his data-holding Rubik's cube undetected.


Snowden is not the return to form and relevance that Oliver Stone has spent years aiming for. It's a watchable and polished drama that you'll remember more for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Napoleon Dynamite-esque adopted voice than for its exploration of present-day privacy invasion and the man who risked everything to call attention to it.

With fine picture and sound plus a decent handful of extras, Universal's combo pack lends to a rental.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Sully Dog Eat Dog War Dogs Hell or High Water
Directed by Oliver Stone: Wall Street Salvador Platoon U Turn Any Given Sunday Nixon
Citizenfour The Fifth Estate Steve Jobs The Big Short
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The Walk The Night Before Looper Premium Rush Stop-Loss The Lookout 10 Things I Hate About You
Shailene Woodley: Divergent The Descendants | Rhys Ifans: Madame Bovary Greenberg The Amazing Spider-Man
Nicolas Cage: The Runner Seeking Justice | Melissa Leo: The Fighter Flight Prisoners

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Reviewed December 28, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Open Road Films, Endgame Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment, KrautPack Entertainment, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.