CitizenFour: Film Review
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald
Director: Laura Poitras
Whistleblower, patriot, traitor, hero.
All of these have been levelled at the subject of the Oscar nominated documentary, CitizenFour, Edward Snowden.
Whether you believe the information or whether you back the theory that if there's nothing to hide then there's nothing to fear, there can be nothing more incendiary than the Edward Snowden revelations.
The disclosure that the Obama adminstration was deeper into invading personal privacy than was believed forms the basis of CitizenFour - and more specifically, the unspooling on screen of the instigator of the leaks, Edward Snowden.
Film-maker Laura Poitras has captured lightning in a bottle in some ways with this, her third doco about personal freedoms and reporting in post 9/11 America, as she manages to chronicle the real time unspooling of Snowden's claims and the releasing of them into the international conscience.
Central to CitizenFour is the eight day hotel siege in June 2013 when Snowden unleashed his claims anonymously via Glenn Greenwald and first stunned the incumbent adminstrations. You could be forgiven for thinking Snowden was some kind of Machievellan plotter lurking in the shadows, rubbing his hands in glee at the unveiling of such bombshells, but Poitras' doco is at pains to show the man as he is, with no histrionics and OTT editing in place to either canonise or demonise the man in any way shape or form.
In fact, the simple unveiling of facts (a lot of facts, almost too much for those not in the least bit au fait with the claims) is the basis of this calm doco, which simply follows events rather than shaping them or fuelling any kind of sentiment.
On that front, CitizenFour is an interesting piece, one which will lead to hyperbolic claims that it's one of the most important documentaries of our time, because of the subject matter.
It's perhaps more interesting that the film itself does little to reveal too much more of the man or those around him - the government is always a shady presence in the piece, seen to be acting off camera with malice aforethough and Snowden himself is a man caught up in a potential maelstrom that he's not fully considered the implications of.
Occasionally though, Poitras peppers her relatively dry piece with some personality and humour; Snowden himself types his password while cloaked under a veil (to prevent over-analysis and digital interpretation of keystrokes); equally, a series of fire alarm tests in the building provoke Snowden to unplug the phone. These could be the actions of a true paranoid man but with calm presentation, Poitras grounds Snowden in a humanity that's relatable and perhaps, sympathetic.
Claims at the end that POTUS is possibly implicated by a new source hang without any follow up (a frustrating symptomatic fact of this doco is that it doesn't reward the casual viewer at all); it's technically well put together, relatively focussed on the global implications of the bombshells, but fails to fully follow up anything; in that way, CitizenFour feels a like a "Day in the life of" piece, which gives you the context of what transpires and why it's happening but with a cold detachedness that's distinctly obvious throughout - even though Snowden's reasoning for not being the story are valid in the context, to make him the subject of the doco and not fully explore that isn't totally seizing on what's available.
While CitizenFour is likely to take the Best documentary category at the Oscars this year, it feels like the documentary adheres very strictly to the codes of its genre which is to its detriment; there's little other than a documenting of facts which makes this feel a little too aloof to be the incendiary bombshell it clearly wants to be.