Movie Review - Citizenfour

Edward Snowden (left) and Glenn Greenwald
in a scene from "Citizenfour"
Edward Snowden is a former worker for the National Security Agency or NSA who is now charged with federal crimes for stealing and leaking sensitive or classified information from and about the NSA, which exposes that organization's spying techniques on the American public in possible violations of privacy and the Constitution.

This documentary is about Snowden, but it mostly takes place inside his hotel room in Hong Kong with him explaining what the NSA was doing. There's a lot of shots of Snowden just sitting on his bed or just watching television, and it's boring. The director Laura Poitras goes to China and joins journalist Glenn Greenwald to meet Snowden and receive his NSA leaks, and the movie ultimately feels like the outtakes of an interview that Greenwald was conducting with Snowden where it's basically a data dump meant to convey how scary the NSA is or how unconstitutional its privacy violations are, and it does convey that, but the movie felt lacking in so much.

Even though Snowden resists it, more of a profile of him would have been preferred. There are moments that reveal what kind of a person he is, how he speaks, his intelligence and a moment where he fusses endlessly over his hair. However, Poitras could have talked to Snowden's family or girlfriend. Poitras doesn't do talking heads or traditional interviews. Her movie is more akin to cinéma vérité, but Poitras could have tried to capture Snowden's friends and family on camera.

There is a fear that if Poitras returns to the United States, she could be subpoenaed or something worse. Having access to Snowden's family would have been not as easy as Poitras having access to Snowden himself. Yet, a profile of Greenwald would have been preferred as well.

Greenwald becomes a subject himself in this movie, but we learn very little about him. You don't even realize that Greenwald is gay. Looking back, Greenwald talks to Snowden about coming out, which could be put into an interesting context for Greenwald. The fact that he can speak Portuguese or Spanish is a bit of a surprise, but not that much considering his partner and gay lover David Miranda is Brazilian, so delving into Greenwald's life would have been interesting.

There's also a lawsuit in California against the NSA that this movie introduces but then just drops and doesn't do a follow-up. The Good Wife does a better job in a dramatic way of depicting the dangers of the NSA spying on people. This movie has a speech that verbalizes those dangers, but we never truly feel them.

This documentary has been winning a lot of awards and critical praise. It's more than likely going to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and it is the frontrunner to win. What aides it is the almost, intimate access Poitras got to Snowden, as well as the fact that Snowden is one of the most controversial, American figures of the decade and while this movie provides some insight into him, it's not worthy of an Oscar.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.


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