A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Snowden is director Oliver Stone's biopic about Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who leaked classified information in 2013 proving that the U.S. government was using technology to spy on American citizens. The movie has some fairly graphic sexual material, including a sex scene, topless photos on a computer screen, and pole dancing. There's also strong language ("f--k" and "s--t"), and Snowden is shown having epileptic seizures. Other scenes show drone strikes and explosions, and there are sequences of hunting (birds are shot with rifles) and a character breaking his leg. Secondary characters smoke and drink socially, but Snowden declares that he doesn't drink or do drugs.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
SNOWDEN begins in 2013, as filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) meet Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a Hong Kong hotel room, preparing for the interview that will become one of the biggest news stories of the modern era. Snowden tells the story of his brief military career and his various jobs with the CIA and NSA, his relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and his slow discovery that the U.S. government was spying on ordinary citizens without their knowledge. Eventually the guilt and outrage become too much, and Snowden decides to risk his own future and safety to try to bring about change.
Is it any good?
In Oliver Stone's biopic, the controversial Snowden is definitely portrayed as a hero, shown in a soft, emotional light that inspires hope, even if it lacks the righteousness of Stone's early work. Through skillful filmmaking, Snowden tells both the biographical and emotional journey of its main character (played convincingly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He starts out as an idealistic believer in his country but becomes more and more alarmed, disillusioned, and guilty -- all of which leads to action.
Many of the details of Snowden's story were already covered in Laura Poitras' essential, Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour (2014), which is a much more powerful movie. But in that film, the real Snowden is all business, while Stone's version at least offers a warmer side to the whistleblower. Together, the two movies could provide a more complete picture of who he really is. Stone finishes Snowden with a coda that's designed to inspire, but it feels a little light and perhaps not as relevant as it once might have been.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Edward Snowden is a role model. Was what he did illegal? Heroic? What do you think you'd have done in his position?
How does this movie compare to Citizenfour, the documentary about Snowden? What does it show that the documentary couldn't? What did the documentary show that Snowden couldn't?
How is sex portrayed in the movie? Is it gratuitous? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
The movie brings up issues related to privacy and U.S. citizens' rights. How important is privacy to you?
Have you ever been punished for doing something that you felt was the right thing? Why? Would you do it again?
- In theaters: September 16, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 27, 2016
- Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo
- Director: Oliver Stone
- Studio: Open Road Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 134 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexuality/nudity
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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