Rated R, 138 minutes
As you read this review, someone could very well be tracking your online movements. That is the premise of the new fact-based political thriller "Snowden" from Academy Award- winning director Oliver Stone, whose subject is former U.S. government employee Edward Snowden, who revealed he had hacked some classified information regarding the government's activities in spying on its citizens. Well-acted and occasionally thought-provoking, Stone's heavy hand tends to get in the way of the overlong film with an idealized, romanticized tone that tends to be found in many of his films. In 2013, NSA contractor Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) leaked a large number of classified documents to the media, exposing the U.S. government's covert surveillance activities. Some called the whistleblower a hero, while others called him a traitor. Directed and co-written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald and based on the books "The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man," by Luke Harding and "Time of the Octopus," by Anatoly Kucherena, "Snowden" is an intriguing but sometimes sluggish affair, headlined by an excellent performance from Gordon-Levitt as the brilliant geek who stole files because of some secret U.S. policies he discovers that allows the U.S. to spy on its citizens, something that the director doesn't explore fully. Instead, Stone spends too much time in plodding detail telling Snowden's story as he goes from one job to the next and particularly with his relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Wallis (Shailene Woodley) instead of what truly shaped and influenced Snowden's motivation to take the files, except for his growing disagreements with the government, which isn't a surprise given that the nerdy Snowden isn't exactly the most colorful of characters (honestly, he's a bit of a bore). Outside of Gordon-Levitt, of the large ensemble cast there is another standout: "Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans as an early CIA mentor, who has the film's most chilling scene in the second act, when he confronts Snowden about some of his activities. Stone is otherwise content with loading the cast with talented individuals in tiny roles - blink and you'll miss Nicolas Cage, along with Timothy Olyphant, Joely Richardson, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson, all of whom get in scant footage. Most important, watch for the real Snowden, who cameos at the end to help give a big speech about standing up for what you believe. I don't disagree with some of film's points about privacy in the modestly entertaining but bombastic "Snowden" and the title character is made out as a hero here, but like his recent "W" and unlike his classic "JFK," shows that Stone mellowed considerably.