Finally caught up with Poitras’ riveting documentary about Edward Snowden and it’s exactly the movie you think it’s going to be, a damning look at government surveillance and the plight of the modern whistleblower. This movie tracks everything from Snowden’s first contact with Poitras, using the screenname “citizenfour”; the bulk of the film is taken up with the meeting of Glenn Greenwald, Snowden & Poitras in a Hong Kong hotel room for an interview/investigation that lasted for days. The film is, however, equally compelling during the times when it isn’t focused on this; there’s an early section surrounding a lawsuit over phone surveillance that is riveting and infuriating in the cavalier way the government treats the privacy of its own citizens and the role of the judiciary. But when we’re in that hotel room with Snowden, it really does feel like we as the audience are there and Snowden comes across in a very compelling way, as an articulate, intelligent, principled young man, not at all the erratic, irrational traitor that the American government has attempted to paint him as. He’s not a fool and he’s not dangerous; he’s just a normal, intelligent guy. This humanizing of Snowden might be the most important things the film does, really; yes, the information remains shocking and Poitras is able to craft her film in such a way that all of the illegal behavior of the government lands with an impact even though we’ve heard it before, but we, well, we have heard it all before, at least hopefully. But in its portrait of the whistleblower, the film has the potential to change people’s minds about Chelsea Manning & William Binney and all the other whistleblowers over the years that have been demonized. Humanizing Snowden is humanizing everyone that’s fighting against the illegalities and civil rights violations perpetrated by the American government and this feels just as important as anything else in the film. Will anyone buy the “traitor” line the next time some whistleblower exposes corruption in the government? No one that’s seen this film. So, see it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – documentary follows whistleblower Edward Snowden, both humanizing him and exploring the damning revelations of corruption & law-breaking by the government; essential & timely. 4 stars.