For those who have been following the Edward Snowden story since it first broke there is not too much in ‘Citizenfour’ that will be altogether shocking. News about governmental surveillance and its creeping reach maintain an almost permanent place in the media. However, finally seeing an inclusive telling of the story and a summary of everything that has been slowly revealed in the news is nevertheless a lot to take in.
The story unfolds like a modern day thriller, though it often borders on uncomfortable when the realization hits that not only did this happen but it is still happening. Edward Snowden, the face of the controversy, is presented here as more of a down to earth human than some mysterious muckraker. At times the film does adopt a strongly idealistic stance, often portraying Snowden in a heroic light, but despite this there is an overarching push to emphasize the government’s actions over how they were revealed/discovered.
Filmmaker Laura Poitras does a great job balancing all of the elements of this complex story and creating an incredibly watchable movie. The film does bind itself to a focus on the domestic aspects of the scandal, leaving the international backlash and possible national security issues to another film. Despite this, those who come into ‘Citizenfour’ with no real knowledge of the scandal will come out with an evenhanded, though somewhat terrifying, account.
Whether you support Snowden’s actions, think that he’s a traitor, or don’t think you have an opinion either way, ‘Citizenfour’ is still a must watch film. The fact that the information leaked by Snowden has become so banal and commonplace necessitates a film like this to stir emotions and revitalize sentiments.