By taking on a subject cinema has yet to take full advantage of, firebrand director Oliver Stone could be back.
It was recently announced that Oliver Stone was to direct the story of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who announced to the world that the US Government under the PRISM programme had been monitoring our emails, Facebook accounts and pretty much everything we do on the internet. In recent years, the internet and its accompanying freedom of speech has been a source of much controversy, with a series of collisions between the state wanting to gain control of this influential communications tool and the people protesting as best they can to retain their privacy and freedom.
Films portraying whistleblowers and the power struggle between the state and the people have been unable to gain mass appeal
The most recent campaign was Reset the Net, one that Edward Snowden himself supports and gave talks on only a fortnight ago. Alongside Snowden, hacktivist group Anonymous and WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange have been the subject of a number of features. We Are Legion was the much overlooked documentary highlighting some of Anonymous’s key triumphs, the group’s ethos and the issues that have arisen through such anonymity of its members. Julian Assange/WikiLeaks was the main source for the recent We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks documentary, which detailed the site’s rise and its global popularity, paying particular attention to the Bradley Manning leak.
What these two documentaries failed to do, however, was grab a major audience, and the latter failed to even feature an interview with Julian Assange himself. There was also The Fifth Estate, which was to bring to life the WikiLeaks story and humanise the Julian Assange character, but it bombed both commercially and critically. So, with a string of films portraying whistleblowers and the power struggle between the state and the people over control of the internet yet unable to gain mass appeal, can Oliver Stone bring the Edward Snowden story to a greater success?
The short answer is simply yes. Let’s not kid ourselves that Stone’s recent films have had the cultural bite like that of his earlier films, but there is a logical explanation for this. Stone’s earlier work analysed themes and subject matters from a different perspective at the time of release. Platoon was marked as the first anti-Vietnam war film to be made by a veteran of the war; Wall Street could be viewed as the first film to delve into the greed of Wall Street 80s culture without omitting stock broker information (like we would later see in The Wolf of Wall Street); JFK was marked as the first Hollywood film to begin questioning the truth behind the Kennedy Assassination of ’63; Natural Born Killers could be viewed as the most notorious film to critique the media and public response to mass murderers.
All these films were highly charged in content and delivered to an unsuspecting audience. Nobody had seen Vietnam from an experienced perspective, nobody had seen the unabashed ruthlessness of 80s greed up close, nobody had seen the JFK assassination picked apart so thoroughly and nobody had seen Hollywood respond to their own hyper-violent cinema. Stone’s later films were socially and politically charged, but they succumbed to the classic too-little-too-late. W, for example, was the biopic of George W Bush, whereby Stone attempted to both humanise the naïve president and demonise those responsible for the Iraq War.
Stone’s later films have been socially and politically charged, but they have succumbed to the classic too-little-too-late
As a movie taken on its own merits, W succeeds in challenging the Bush administration, but Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which won a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, had already critiqued much of what Stone set out to do. Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, his only sequel to date, attempted to critique the late 2000’s global recession. Again, as a movie on its own it succeeds, but another film released that same year was the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, which analysed the complexity of the global economic market leading up to the financial disaster.
In short, Stone’s recent films have succeeded in critiquing politically charged subject matters, but they’ve fallen short due to being overshadowed by other movies. The recent internet whistleblower movies/documentaries haven’t quite reached the mass or had much critical appeal, and this is where Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden story could succeed. He could bring the unique perspective he asserted in his earlier films as well as maintain his acute attention to contemporary social issues. This film has the potential to be Stone’s comeback, exploring an issue he cares about and bringing a complex issue to audiences where others have failed.
Read more: Why 2013 was a major biopic disappointment
Featured image: Matthew Tsimitak (via Flickr)
Inset image: Warner Bros