If you haven’t seen Citizen Four before catching this film (and you should catch this film) then watch it after. The two together provide a greater scope of the tale while they corroborate one another. But there are two other reasons to see this movie.
First, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s (The Walk) performance is surprising and surprisingly compelling. Levitt metamorphosed for this role. It isn’t that he gained or lost weight or anything so prosaic. He shifted his movement and voice to capture Edward Snowden as best he could. And, more importantly, he took us through the transformation that led Snowden to perform his act of patriotism or terror (depending on your own personal beliefs). Take a look at the non-performance reasons to see this film if you’re on the terror side.
Along with Levitt, Shailene Woodley (Allegiant) and Rhys Ifans (Mr. Nobody) drive the story, each vying for different sides of his conscience. Woodley delivers a believable performance, but she really needs to get some vocal coaching in order to gain more credibility on screen. Though her emotional and physical through-lines are solid, and she feels entirely natural, her voice continuously undermines her believability for me. Ifans, is more subtle in his role. He is exactly what you expect and yet not quite. Then again, I’m not sure anyone in that position would be fully, recognizably human.
There are two other ancillary groups that vie for Snowden’s allegiance and mind. From the intelligence community Nicholas Cage (Pay the Ghost), Timothy Olyphant (This is Where I Leave You), and Ben Schnetzer (Warcraft) lead the way. And from the side of the press, Melissa Leo (Veronika Decides to Die), Zachary Qunito (Star Trek Beyond), Tom Wilkinson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Joely Richardson (Maggie) drive the effort. The press side are rather a good match for the real players captured in Citizen Four.
The second reason to catch this tale is also tied up with my higher than normal rating for it, given my typical parameters. It isn’t a great film, but the message and the story are important. Even more important than they were when it was released mere months ago. If you doubt that, then you missed the news from mere days after the inauguration. Whether or not the order sticks, the very intent speaks volumes for how government continues to view its role and how little privacy citizens can even pretend to have.
I also gave this flick a ratings boost as it is the first Oliver Stone (Savages) film I’ve actually gotten to the end of and felt was solid. Every other film of his falls apart at the end. This film soars with some brave and unexpected choices. Like many, I’m betting you probably avoided the story, but I suggest you put it in your queue along with Citizen Four as a companion documentary. You may be angry you did, but you won’t be sorry.