The debate as to whether Ed Snowden is a national hero or a traitor will rage for many, many years much like the the debate over the assassination of President Kennedy continues. Enter Oliver Stone to offer his slant on the issue.


Stone has made a living developing dramas based on real and generally controversial events and people. "JFK", "Wall Street", "Nixon", "Born on the Fourth of July", "The Doors", "W." and now "Snowden." Moreover he's the guy who directed Charlie Sheen when Sheen was a serious actor ("Platoon" and "Wall Street")...and survived!


This time he travels to Moscow to interview ex-patriot Edward Snow, to get the many blanks that were left unfilled after Snowden leaked top secret information to the press. The info rocked the U.S. spy industry to the core, revealing what many conspiracy theorists had already surmised - the U.S. government spends billions spying on its own citizens.

The film begins with Snowden trying to make it in the U.S. Army special services and failing miserably. he wants to serve his country, but as a high school drop out, no one is taking him seriously until he applies for a job with the CIA. He impresses Corbin O-Brian (Rhys Ifans) and joins the CIA in their top secret cybertech unit.


During his training, he bonds with eccentric CIA guy Hank Forrester (Nick Cage) who has been tucked away in a remote lab so that he can tinker with old technology and old theories. Snowden and Forrester bond in a weird geeky manner. At about the same time, Snowden meets his soon-to-be girl Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), a photographer who asks far too many questions from a guy with top secret clearance.


As is Stone's style occasionally, he bounces back and forth in the time frames - from the early beginnings to the time he sold out the secrets to the various media. We meet Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Glenn Greenwood (Zachary Quinto) as well as Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian (Tom Wilkinson) in a luxury Hong Kong hotel deciding of Snowden's information is the real deal.

During his employment with the CIA, he learns how the CIA takes experimental programs and turns them into deciphering programs that are capable of gathering information from any and all computer sources.


More importantly, he had designed a program that could coordinate and control all these other programs in one fell swoop. And while he had no problem developing the program, he was surprised to see that it was being applied to Americans more than foreign concerns.


Much like Clint Eastwood's current film "Sully", Stone lets this becomes more a procedural rather than a thriller, which may indeed be the way things happened, but for entertainment value, it peters out. Doing tricks with a Rubik's cube, doesn't hold your attention as well as a knife in the back or some close quarter combat.


Because we already know how the story turns out so far, spicing it up with some fictional action might have helped. The acting is top notch, but the story is rather pedestrian.


"Snowden" is the typical, well-done docudrama that offers a strong performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt as he nails the real Snowden's persona to a T - including personal flaws. But the film feels incomplete, since there is no real outcome...yet.   -- GEOFF BURTON