By Gary Murray
Starring Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald
Directed by Laura Poitras
Running time 114 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
Some people have called him a hero and some people have called him a traitor. But very few people do not have an opinion of Edward Snowden. The former government analyst has turned the world upside down with the revelation that the US has been spying on just about everyone on the planet. The documentary Citizenfour tells the tale of how all this came about, using the actual footage as it happened.
The film is directed by Laura Poitras. She has total access to both Snowden and the reporter who broke the story Glenn Greenwald. She does not interview them but films them talking. Snowden explains to Greenwald all the information he has collected and how he collected it. His admission to Greenwald is his admission to the world.
As one watches the film, one notices just how young Edward Snowden is. With his spotty beard, he looks more like a graduate student than a master spy. He is no James Bond., no touch guy with a gun.
Interspersed with the interviews are CNN newsbreaks where various different bits of the story. There is the planning of disseminating the information and the actual leaking. The two men plan and jockey different scenarios of reactions of the world press. There is also much paranoia that transcends worry about wiretaps.
Along the way, we are shown how different countries react to the information that they and their leaders are being spied on by the US. It is shown that the claim that this new US government will be most transparent administration was just as false as any other government promise.
Although it plays like a real-life thriller, the physical look of the film is a bit amateurish. Time and time again, the film shakes and quakes for some dramatic effect that does not work as a storytelling device. There is this home movie feel that detracts from the overall message of the film.
This film will challenge some and irritate others. The film is more about our paranoia about terrorism than about actual terrorism. The problem with the film is that there is not much of a context to the work. It is just Snowden giving it all to the world and not much into the why of the man, not much of a reflection into attitudes.
In the end, this film is more activism disguised as journalism. It is agenda cinema, much like the work of Michael Moore, with cherry-picked facts rather than a full discussion of the agenda. Those going to Citizenfour expecting the entire truth will be sorely disappointed but those looking to fortify an agenda will be ecstatic. In the end, it changes little for either side.