Movie Review: Snowden

The 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

When the Edward Snowden story came out in 2013, my first thought was, why is this such a big deal? Of course, the CIA and the NSA are spying on everyone in the entire world. We had a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and because of this, the world had changed. After September 2001 the world now included a group of people who want to do nothing more than murder all Americans and other free people around the world. They are willing to do this in any way possible, including blowing themselves up to kill themselves and many other innocent people.  In fact, these terrorists not only do not fear death, they want to die because they believe that they will go to paradise if they kill people for their cause. Our only real defense against this level of evil is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. The only way to prevent terrorism is to spend massive amounts of money on surveillance counterterrorism and spying. At the time all of this made sense to me, but what didn’t make sense was why was Edward Snowden was such a big story and now being called a traitor? To me, all Snowden did was point out what we already must have known was happening; that there were massive levels of spying and surveillance going on for all cell phones, emails social media and all other forms of communication between all people in the entire world. The reason for this was simple; we had to stop large numbers of people from being killed by terrorists. One line that really stood out for me in this movie is that with the connections of people around the world if you go three people deep into a series of links, that this can be a total number of people as high as 2.5 million.

What the new Oliver Stone movie “Snowden” points out is that this story is not simple at all and is fundamentally very complicated because when does massive spying to save lives go too far? Is it possible to save lives and at the same time not infringe on the basic constitutional rights of all Americans? Is it even feasible to regulate what the NSA and CIA are allowed to see, or hear and at the same time still be able to do their jobs of protecting American lives? If someone finds out that major Government Agencies are blatantly violating the 4th Amendment, is it a crime to report them as breaking the law? Clearly, the United States thought that what Snowden did was a crime, and because of this if he ever returns to this country he will be put in jail, possibly for life. To escape this, both he and his girlfriend will be living in Moscow for the rest of their lives and as Americans, this must be rather unbearable for them.

The story of Edward Snowden, played very well by Joseph Gorden Levitt is a highly unusual one. He was a poor young man, born in 1983 who had to drop out of high school to make money to help his parents who divorced and then found himself in Army Bootcamp and then managed to break both of this legs. Despite his lack of education, he was a self-taught genius of software development and because of his impressive skills he was recruited by the NSA and very soon was found to be a programming superstar. One wonders how many great and very gifted geniuses in this country are working for the NSA and CIA doing nothing more that creating complex software to spy on the entire world or building weapons.

During his early years in the NSA Snowden met two mentors played by Nicholas Cage and Rhys Ifans, both of whom guide this gifted employee towards the top of the NSA. It was unusual to see Nicholas Cage in a very small part in a major motion picture but I thought he did a very effective job in his role. Edward meets a woman played very well by Shailene Woodley who very quickly becomes his girlfriend.  Over time, Snowden realizes that the NSA is not only spying on terrorists and other countries like Iran and Russia but pretty much everyone in the United States, including even his girlfriend.  Once Snowden finds out how pervasive the spying in the NSA was, both his anger and conscience gets the better of him and eventually he seeks out members of the press, one of them played by Zachary Quinto. What is important at this point is that you realize that Snowden knew that going to the press would doom his life as a United States citizen for life and despite all of this, he did it anyway. Right after going to the press, Snowden’s life was never the same and he had to take asylum in Russia and was eventually joined by his girlfriend. At the end of the movie, Edward Snowden himself makes an appearance at the end of this movie and he makes no apologies for as he put it, “doing the right thing”, to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. As far as the question as to whether Snowden is in fact, a criminal and a traitor to the Unites States, each person has to reach his own decision about this. For me, my honest answer is that I think he was wrong to actually steal data evidence from the NSA, but he was not wrong in reporting that our fourth Amendment rights were being violated. Perhaps the only solution was to not come forward himself, but instead, he should have sent the evidence to the press anonymously​ but not steal data from the NSA. In the end, Snowden could not resolve this conflict without resolving to spend the rest of his life in asylum​.

It’s was unusual to see an Oliver Stone movie like this one, given that his last major release was as far back as the year 2010 with the release of the Wall Street sequel “Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps”, which probably proves how hard it is to get a movie produced in Hollywood, even for someone with the clout of Oliver Stone. I highly recommend this movie which does a great job documenting an important event in American history.

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