It’s hard to know the truth in life even with the best intentions in mind and the upcoming biographical thriller, Snowden, encapsulates this predicament to a large extent. The film tells the story of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and contractor for the US government, who leaked details of classified government surveillance programmes.
However, the fact that he went on to take up an extended stay in Russia with temporary asylum status clouds the situation a little. As a result, it’s hard to know for sure whether or not his motives were entirely altruistic, as he has stated, or if there is more to things than him just releasing information for the public good. That aside, what’s very clear is that the governments that we live with have got access to a lot of our personal data and the film should act as another reiteration of that.
Snowden has been slated for a UK release date of Thursday the 8th December 2016, following on from its US release earlier in the year on the 16th September 2016. It’ll be out in the UK on a weekend where very little of any real note is planned for release, so it’s given itself a big chance of box office success, but with Office Christmas Party out earlier in the week and Disney’s Moana the week before, it could still struggle to get enough attention on the big screen.
The plot is the biographical story of Edward Snowden’s life in the US intelligence system, from his short-lived army days through his time at the CIA and on into his career as a government support contractor with Dell. Along the way he becomes disenfranchised with the methods of surveillance of US government agencies, and he decided to expose the activity by taking thousands of classified files and releasing them to the press. To do this he must risk everything to get a USB drive with all of the secret documents on it past security. Luckily, the guard was a bit of a numpty and the old Rubik’s Cube trick worked like a charm.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame To Kill For) leads the cast as the tech genius Edward Snowden, with support from Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Melissa Leo (Charlie Countryman) stars as filmmaker Laura Poitras, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek: Beyond) plays journalist Glenn Greenwald and Tom Wilkinson (Unfinished Business) plays journalist Ewen MacAskill, all of whom help to expose the documents Edward managed to secure.
Rhys Ifans (Alice Through The Looking Glass) stars as Snowden’s CIA mentor Corbin O’Brian, Nicolas Cage (The Trust) plays CIA trainer Hank Forrester, and Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad) plays NSA agent Trevor James.
The film is the latest effort from director Oliver Stone (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald. Moritz Borman, Eric Kopeloff, Philip Schulz-Deyle and Fernando Sulichin are down as producers.
From the look of the trailer below, Snowden looks a little tame, if we’re being honest, and the mixed reviews (some of which are much less mixed than others) would seem to indicate that it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of the content behind it all. However, the fact that it serves to highlight the repeated shafting the people of the world get from their own governments alone makes this a film that should be watched by everyone.
That being said, if someone had told us, before the leaked documents came to light, that government agencies had the power, capabilities and authority to access your personal information, we really wouldn’t have been surprised. If that same person had said the agencies were also using their surveillance mechanisms to keep tabs on global powers and industry we’re sure we’d be forgiven for asking, “what’s new?” The fact that these two realities have been confirmed with leaked evidence doesn’t really change anything. The revelations haven’t altered our perceptions, and we presume that the same surveillance machine is still in operation, so while it may or may not have been noble of Edward Snowden to have taken the steps that he opted for, it’s hardly going to inspire a step change in reality.
As with all things in life, the complexities of the situation serve to confound the truth – a truth we can never know for sure – but whether you subscribe to the Snowden as a hero or national security risk philosophy, the only reality you can bet your last dollar on is that if your government wants to see a picture of you in the nud, it probably can. The problem is that there’s very little, if anything at all, you can do about it and it still feels like no amount of box office success for Snowden can change that. If anything, looking at the US election results and our own political upheaval in the UK, we’re pretty sure there’s a fair amount of the voting public that are fine with government surveillance activity as long as it makes them feel like they’re safe.
We’re conscious that this has turned into a bit of a rant, but it’s a frustrating situation to contemplate. If we’re being brutally honest, and we take Edward Snowden’s tech genius credentials at face value, factoring in his visions of the inner sanctum, we would have preferred him to have put his heart and soul into developing and distributing preventative solutions to the masses to help them keep their personal information personal, if they really want to, instead of just telling us we’re being watched. We already know, or in the very least suspect, the power of the powers that be. What we don’t have is the tools or knowledge to prevent it from being an entirely free pass or enough constructive government opposition to make a dent. Maybe that’s a concept for a film we’d pay to go to see, but from our point of view they can zoom in on our salty swingers all they want. They look like a goblin’s coin purse today and they’re only getting worse, so fill your boots guys. For all of their access and skills, criminals still walk free, cyber crime still continues on largely unabated and terrorists are still at large causing all sorts of mayhem, so maybe they’re not all that all-knowing.
In all fairness to Edward Snowden, he has been very candid and open about the things that you can do to minimise your exposure – his interview with Intercept is a good starting point if you’re interested. The problem with that is that if everyone followed the instructions, including serious criminals, then it would make prosecuting them that much more difficult. We don’t want to live in a world that requires such measures and we don’t want to live in a world where intelligence operations have little to no checks on their activity. While we hope the sum result of the leak is that organisations like the NSA take this as a clean hit and amend their operations accordingly, we’re not too sure, so for now you might want to operate as if your sack’s on show the entire time and maybe think about a bajazzle once in a while. We’re sporting one right now!