See Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden Serving His Country in First Snowden Pics

By  · Published on March 3rd, 2015

Open Road

Normally I don’t pay a lot of attention to first-look publicity stills from movies, but I’m intrigued about new images released today from Oliver Stone’s upcoming Edward Snowden biopic. It’s not just that Joseph Gordon-Levitt bears little resemblance to the whistleblower (just as he looks nothing like Philippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk) and so the stills are just making me dying to see an actual performance instead of frozen frames. And it’s not that two out of three of the releases images are barely distinct from each other. It’s that those two images depict Snowden’s very brief stint in the US Army Reserve ten years ago.

Is Stone looking to make a point with these pictures? Snowden enlisted in 2003 and following an aptitude test began a track for Special Forces the following May. But he broke both legs in a training accident a few months in and was discharged in September. He wanted to serve his country. As he told journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill and Citizenfour director Laura Poitras during the now famous Hong Kong hotel session, Snowden wanted to fight in the Iraq War “because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression,” but he was disheartened by his fellow soldiers in training, most of whom “seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone.”

Of course, to many and probably to Stone, Snowden wound up serving his country in another way. That by releasing secret NSA surveillance information, he helped free his fellow Americans (and others) from oppression. Knowing Stone’s work and political mindset, I can see him making a point of equating Snowden’s desire to fight for his country with the desire to blow a whistle for his country. It’s also relevant to Stone’s own life, as he served his country during Vietnam before becoming a controversial, seemingly anti-American filmmaker championing someone like Snowden.

Open Road

And then in the third image, seen below, Stone offers a gesture of peace on the set with Gordon-Levitt for a non-training scene that could take place later when Snowden has joined the CIA working in IT.

The movie, titled Snowden, also stars Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Melissa Leo as Greenwald, MacAskill and Poitras, plus Nicolas Cage and Shailene Woodley. It opens in theaters on December 25, 2015.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.