We’ve had Citizenfour, the documentary film, and now Oliver Stone gives us the true story as a dramatic fiction. Laura Poitras is there, as a character, filming Snowden in Hong Kong, and it is from this scene that we flashback over his life. That concept works well; between his own recollections and what Laura draws out (which is everything of interest about his transition from gung ho CIA operative to whistle blower; the Guardian reporter and Glenn Greenwald are only interested in The Big Story, not in Snowden’s story), we get a well developed portrait of what it takes to induce repugnance and indignation in someone who wants to serve his country.
As far as I can make out, the only real justification for the surveillance is that the enema is everywhere, security is paramount, and secrecy is vital to security, hence spying on everyone all the time. That’s what Snowden’s CIA mentor tells us and it feels like a half-baked half-truth; in other words, as Stone tells it the whole program is a fantasmatic effort to find needles in haystacks that could be better spent pursuing specific leads and launching counter-offensives. There is no discussion of how to promote democracy or how to build democratic institutions among our middle east “allies,” or how to rely on “good” Muslims to help feret out the bad, etc. There is a “hide inside the fortress” mentality to the CIA and NSA that makes effective action almost inconceivable.
All in all, an excellent complement to Poitras’s portrait of Snowden and a film with more suspense than I would have imagined.