This weekend audiences around the world were introduced (or reintroduced) to Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s latest film Snowden. The film has had a very promising opening weekend at the box office and some critics have sung its praises. This is not the first time since Snowden’s revelations back in 2013, that we have heard his story. In 2014 director Laura Poitras released Citizenfour, which shocked moviegoers when it actually followed the real Snowden in his process of releasing his findings to the public. This film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary and put Snowden’s story back in the eyes of the public once again.
What made Citizenfour such a unique and memorable film was the pure excitement of watching something that the audience is told from the start is extremely illegal, but at the same time being given the choice to feel something for Snowden as he explains his actions to us. Snowden also carries the same feelings while adding the thrill of a suspense filled story with real-life consequences. Is one of these films considered better or more accurate than the other? Let’s explore a few things that made these films so successful.
The one large difference between Snowden and Citizenfour is casting. One film has very talented and well-known actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicholas Cage, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo and Zachary Quinto. The other film has the actual people and you’re getting to see them as they were in the time leading up to the grand unveiling. This is a very hard choice to make as to which was more entertaining to watch. On one hand, you can’t beat the real thing and getting to essentially be a fly on the wall during one of recent history’s biggest moments. On the other hand, having talented actors who have taken time to study the story and learn about their character is sometimes more entertaining than watching a documentary.
This leads into the second question, is this story presented better as a documentary or a government thriller? In Snowden, I could feel myself becoming more and more attached to JGL’s portrayal of Snowden. Being able to see the events in his life that led him to that Hong Kong hotel room in 2013 really made the whole experience of this film better. The only aspect that remained in the back of my head throughout the film was the fact that this did not happen that long ago, and Snowden is still alive and well in Russia. Just the idea that he watched a movie about something he did three years ago starring JGL is mind-blowing.
Citizenfour had a much different vibe to it being a documentary. The idea of Snowden watching himself in a movie about something he had done a year ago back in 2014 is equally as mind-blowing. The big difference between the two portrayals of this story is the realism. Citizenfour actually happened and what we see on camera is what everyone in that hotel room saw. The fear and sense of paranoia when they would peak out the windows and door thinking that someone was spying on them or that the police were about to arrest them was real. Snowden showed the same things only they were obviously acting, and very convincingly I may add.
From a critical standpoint, we really won’t know just how well Snowden stacks up to Citizenfour until award season kicks back up. From a moviegoer’s standpoint, this debate is completely up to you. Whether you like the realism of the documentary or the thrill of the movie, you’re getting the same incredible story. With so much happening in our world today, some of which is a direct result of Edward Snowden, it is important to learn from stories like his whether you agree with his position or not.