Thursday, February 19, 2015
Recent Watches: Citizenfour (2014)
Citizenfour” is only the first of at least two planned films about Snowden. However, “Citizenfour” was filmed with Snowden’s involvement, during the days he leaked the incriminating documents to the media. From the beginning, the documentary was planned as part of Snowden’s actions.
The story actually begins before Snowden ever dropped his documents. He contacted documentary director Laura Poitras before contacting the media. The two had been communicating via encrypted e-mails for some time. Days before he dropped the NSA files, he met with Poitras in a Hong Kong hotel, recording several days worth of interviews. These interviews, along with candid clips of Snowden’s life, comprise a large portion of the film. The second half is focused on the media fall out and the resulting outrage.
I’ll repeat: As a historical document, “Citizenfour” is invaluable. But I’m not sure it’s much of a movie. There’s nothing cinematic at all about the interviews with Snowden. They are merely long, long scenes of him talking into the camera. Sometimes, he’s not even framed correctly, like when he sits on a bed with his laptop. What he talks about will be well-known to anyone who read the news stories. Very little new information is revealed here. Despite his notorious status in the political spectrum, Snowden comes off as a really square, normal guy. Frequently, Poitras just cuts to news reports from CNN or other networks, taken directly from the channels. This is not especially compelling. The glimpses of Snowden trying to pass time in the hotel or of Greenwald seeing his boyfriend for the first time in a while are more human, more compelling. These moments are brief. “Citizenfour” feels less like cinema and more like a text book brought to life.
Should “Citizenfour” win Best Documentary at the Oscars? Depends on how you define “best.” Should the best documentary be the one that’s most important, that captures history as it is happening? Or should the best documentary be a good film, that has an exciting narrative, thrilling editing, involving characters, or a strong emotional backbone? If it’s the latter, “Citizenfour” is definitely not the best documentary of any year. It’s a bore and about as flat as a movie can be. Don’t take this as a slam against Snowden, who I believe did the right thing. Take it as a slam against the unimaginative filmmakers. [5/10]