Snowden Review: Story half told


Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone (screenplay), Luke Harding (book), Anatoly Kucherena (book)

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

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Release date: September 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA, Germany

Running time: 134 minutes


3/5

Best part: Levitt and Woodley’s chemistry.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

There are many words to describe whistleblower Edward Snowden. Descriptors like patriot, terrorist, rebel, whistleblower and tyrant have been used by all manner of people. In spite of finger pointing and name calling, there is no doubt this is a fascinating tale. 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour exposed the truth behind one of the 21st Century’s most alarming leaks of classified information.

As Citizenfour proved, the fiery debate over cyber-security, privacy and whistleblowing rages on. So, with the documentary and internet providing maximum information, what does docudrama Snowden do differently? Not much. We first meet Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being kicked out of special forces for dodgy legs. A devastated young Snowden joins the CIA under Corbin O’Brian(Rhys Ifans)’s watchful eye. The computer genius rises up the ranks and delves further into the system. He finds the government and security agency NSA’s secrets. His discoveries affect his and long-term girlfriend Lindsay Mills(Shailene Woodley)’s relationship. Years later, he reaches out to documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen McAskill (Tom Wilkinson) for help.

Obviously, Snowden finds the dirty details, steals secrets then leaks them to the press before going into exile in Moscow, Russia. This ongoing story is far from reaching a peaceful conclusion. A better docudrama would have detailed the journey’s ethical, emotional and psychological toll. Sadly, like The Fifth Estate, Snowden becomes a straightforward, useless stunt. Unlike Citizenfour, or anything the internet would provide, its delivers little information about Snowden’s identity, job or life-changing events. Each sub-plot and conflict merely blurs together. Set to a sluggish 134-minute run-time, it shifts lackadaisically between life moments. Instead of building drama and dread, he moves between jobs and countries without any impact. For better or worse, the narrative explores the nitty-gritty of analyst/spy work (finding contacts, moving between outposts etc).

Oliver Stone is a veteran director out of his league. He began with jagged-edge thrillers (Wall Street, Natural Born Killers) and war-dramas (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July). However, his last few (from Alexander through to Savages) have bitten the dust. Like the latter efforts, Snowden drags a top-notch premise and cast through the mud. Being one of Hollywood’s most opinionated filmmakers, Stone’s interest in Snowden seemed promising. However, his paranoia is almost laughable. The second act, when not languishing in Snowden and Lindsay’s relationship politics, delivers extended montages about cyber-security. His old-man-yells-at-cloud approach broadly targets the US Government, multi-million dollar corporations and those behind the scenes. Stone clumsily attempts to jazz up desk-jockey work and hacking with flashy visuals. Levitt and Woodley escape unscathed, delivering stellar impersonations of real-life counterparts.

Snowden had potential to tell a detailed story, bring Stone back from career suicide and showcase a quality cast. Instead, it’s a meandering, boilerplate procedural with little insight or even basic information. Stone’s out-of-touch direction and point of view deliver a snooze instead of a success.

Verdict: A wasted opportunity.

London Has Fallen Review: Trump’s America


Director: Babak Najafi

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, Christian Gudegast

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributors: Focus Features, Gramercy Features, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2/5

Review: London Has Fallen

The Equalizer Review – Judge, Jury & Excecutioner


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Richard Wenk

Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo


Release date: September 26th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Washington’s aura.

Worst part: The inexcusable run-time.

Nowadays, with franchises controlling Hollywood’s back account, star power and name recognition don’t mean sh*t! Craving attention from studios, critics, and fans, A-list actors walk an ever-so-skinny tight rope between eternal success and straight-to-DVD hell. One man, becoming a shining example of big-screen staying power, has become a role model for aspiring actors the world over. Winning Best Actor back in 2001, mega-star Denzel Washington has since made the most of his immense prowess.

Denzel Washington doin’ his thing!

If nothing else, his new actioner, The Equalizer, exists solely to honour one of this generation’s most inspiring performers. Having spent his early career delivering heart-breaking performances in docudramas like Malcolm X and Glory, Washington has steered his post-Oscar career in a wholly different direction. Carrying many action-thrillers across the line, the veteran actor’s staggering range and charisma continually draw people back to the cinema. In fact, The Equalizer has already been slated to make big bucks over its opening weekend. Nowadays, Washington-led actioners and early-morning iPhone launches are the only two things guaranteed to deliver significant profit margins. Once again, the  59-year-old plays a badass on a mission dictated by God, the Devil, and the local mafia. Washington plays Robert McCall, a middle-aged simpleton working at the local Walmart rip-off. A hit with his co-workers, McCall leads a charmed life guided by a specific routine. His life – consisting of work, friends, reading, and the local diner – is hearteningly succinct. Obviously, this isn’t how he used to live. Being a former intelligence offer (for an unnamed organisation), McCall’s skills outmatch those of everyone in and around Boston. After befriending underage prostitute Teri (Chloe Crace Moretz), McCall begins to move on from his wife’s death. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, he goes on a monstrous rampage through the Russian mob, the police, and the government.

Chloe Grace Moretz in a bland role.

Before I lambast The Equalizer for its many flaws, I’ll commend it for establishing Washington as Hollywood’s most alluring A-lister. Like Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, the star pulls his movies through thick and thin. However, even he can’t save this action-thriller from the critical doldrums. Sadly, the movie has no idea what it wants to be or do. The movie – for the first 40 minutes, in particular – skulks aimlessly like a restless former spy. Some scenes – depicting him helping his friend lose weight, making the winning catch in a baseball game, or completing his household chores – serve little purpose. Dragging its wafer-thin story for 132 minutes, this action-thriller delivers several false starts and bum notes. Sadly, the first half hurriedly drifts from the consciousness. Throwing in more-than-enough genre tropes, plot-threads, comic reliefs, and minor twists, the character-study-esque first third – despite our lead’s intriguing behaviour and vague backstory – will make viewers pine for silly fist-fights, shoot-outs, and explosions. Eventually, well past the point of no return, McCall goes Old Testament on pimps, gangsters, corrupt cops, and senior mobsters. Washington – displaying his undeniable presence within the movie’s many daring scenarios – crafts a ferocious, pseudo-Christian saviour worth supporting. Unfortunately, in melding the bland first third with the action-and-exposition-heavy second and last thirds, the movie becomes a mess not even our all-powerful anti-hero can fix!

“I am offering you a chance to do the right thing. Take it.” (Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), The Equalizer).

Marton Csokas getting some well-deserved recognition.

Despite the confused tone and inconsistent pacing, The Equalizer never forgets to have fun. As the movie switches from suburban drama-thriller to balls-out action extravaganza, our lead character becomes increasingly more interesting. Timing himself with a stop-watch to refine his routine, Washington’s anti-hero bares several neat traits. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) revels in McCall’s super-human abilities. Flaunting McCall’s martial arts macho, intelligence, and DIY skills, Fuqua’s style yearns for our approval. His action – though marred by quick cuts, dimly-lit settings, and shaking cameras – delivers more-than-enough chills, tension, and “Ouch!” moments. The climactic action sequence – set in McCall’s workplace – becomes an ultra-visceral, Home Alone-esque thrill-ride. Based loosely on a 1980s TV series, Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk’s adaptation picks up and drops several signature characteristics without warning. McCall, despite suffering slight shades of Obsessive compulsive disorder, never develops beyond the tragic-vigilante archetype. Despite this, Washington’s insatiable talent kicks the movie into overdrive. Using every line, facial expression, and mannerism to his advantage, the A-lister cements his tough-guy status here. Kiwi character-actor Marton Csokas almost steals the show as Russian freelance hitman, Teddy. Described by Melissa Leo’s character as a: “sociopath with a business card”, his slimy, adept antagonist becomes a fun sparring partner. Sadly, commendable actors including Moretz, Bill Pullman, and David Harbour are left stranded in shallow roles.

It’s not simply that The Equalizer is a bad movie, it’s that there’s nothing special about it. Though far from the 2014’s worst action flick, this one forgets to connect with with audiences and critics. Certainly, everyone gets a kick out of seeing Washington eviscerate five mobsters, in under 20 seconds, without breaking a sweat. However, everything else about this revenge-thriller screams trouble. Despite Washington’s immense charms, his latest schlocker tries too hard to be Man on Fire. Unfortunately, Fuqua ain’t no Tony Scott!

Verdict: A disarming yet by-the-numbers action-thriller.