'The Government Lies All the Time': Oliver Stone on 'Snowden'

At a press conference at TIFF 2016, Oliver Stone and the cast of Snowden discussed the heavy implications of their film.

Laura Poitras' CITIZENFOUR is the nonpareil Edward Snowden movie, but the scene at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival would have you thinking otherwise. Oliver Stone's Snowden, one of the most highly-anticipated films at the festival this year, premiered yesterday evening to a receptive audience which responded positively to the story's Hollywood incarnation. 

Snowden is a dramatic account of nine years in the whistleblower's life, anchored by a procedural of the tenuous 13 days in a Hong Kong hotel room in 2013 during which The Guardian published the former CIA agent's classified documents—events originally captured by Poitras (here, a dead-ringing Melissa Leo) in her groundbreaking documentary. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an affecting performance as the neoconservative-turned-dissident. Together, Gordon-Levitt and Stone accomplish the one thing that the reticent CITIZENFOUR did not: they sensitively reveal Snowden's personal and ideological motivations, along with their resulting moral quagmires.

These very motivations were what originally attracted Gordon-Levitt to the role, which many warned the actor was too "risky" to take on. At the film's press conference at TIFF, Gordon-Levitt said that he was moved by Snowden's patriotism.

"He was doing what he did out of a love for his country and the principles that it was founded on," said the actor. "He enlisted in the US Army in 2004, the most dangerous part of the Iraq War. It shows two different kinds of patriotism: there’s the kind where you’re allegiant to your country no matter what and you don’t ask any questions, but there’s another kind of patriotism, and that’s what I wanted to show in this character.... He does ask questions. That’s the privilege of being in a free country like the USA. We have the right to hold the government accountable. That’s what was motivating [Snowden]."

Credit: Open Road Pictures

Stone portrays Snowden as a veritable hero in his film, casting a critical light on the US government's extensive surveillance network and policy. The director was even more candid in person. "Americans don’t know anything about it because the government lies about it all the time," Stone said. "What’s going on now is pretty shocking. What they’re doing is illegal, and they keep doing it. This story not only deals with eavesdropping, but mass eavesdropping, drones, and cyber warfare. As Snowden said himself the other day, 'The world is out of control.'"

Shailene Woodley, who plays Snowden's long-time girlfriend Lindsay, is also concerned about the implications of Snowden's revelations. "I have a band-aid over my computer [camera]," she said. "When it comes to personal privacy, it’s a privilege, but it’s only a privilege if you’re privy to the fact that it’s a privilege. It’s not something you inherently have as a human being in 2016."

Credit: TIFF

Stone, Gordon-Levitt, and other members of the cast and crew visited Moscow, where their subject currently lives as a fugitive, nine times over the course of pre-production. During these visits, Snowden fact-checked the film and related contextual information about his personal life and career, effectively lifting a veil of mystery.

"Ed Snowden said he would love to come home," said Gordon-Levitt. 

Stone echoed the sentiment: "We hope Mr. Obama has a stroke of lightning and pardons him."

See all of our coverage of TIFF 2016.

Your Comment


'The Government Lies All the Time' says the guy who cuddles with tyrants like Castro and Chavez... smh

September 10, 2016 at 3:40PM

Carlos Luis Pujol
Director of Photography

What he said is true, though all governments lie. And if we are talking tyrants, the biggest tyrant in the world is the US government, sorry to say. Castro and Chavez did what they did to break themselves from that said US tyrannical rule. Read a book before you comment.

September 10, 2016 at 5:07PM, Edited September 10, 5:07PM

Johnny Guatto

As a venezuelan i can only say, politely, f* you! Move here and have a reality check of what a book of Chavez may say and how we really live. "Break themselves from that said US tyrannical rule"?!?! That's the biggest bullshit ever, fucking venezuelan politicians got extremely rich robbing venezuelan oil company (PDVSA) from what they sold to US. And they couldn't stop selling oil to US no matter what, cuz f*ing money come first than morality or ethics. But you get everything straight from a book, right?!

September 11, 2016 at 7:56AM, Edited September 11, 8:02AM

Rafa Ga
Digital Film-Video Editor / Colorist / Motion Graphics

Wt* are you talking about??? A book? Really?
Im from Cuba, my dear reader. I don't need to read one, because I lived it. Maybe if you live our realities, you won't write those absolutely senseless comments.
And tyranny, by definition, is the unreasonable rule, cruel and arbitrary use of power or control by a Government or person(s) without being elected. It seems you didn't read that one.
I would say more, but my new Venezuelan friend here has pretty much said my first words out of my mouth....
Read a book before you comment... lol

September 11, 2016 at 11:36PM

Carlos Luis Pujol
Director of Photography

I personally loved the film, I have been following this story since 2013, watching this film puts you through his point of view which was interesting to see, I definitely recommend it

September 10, 2016 at 9:42PM

Ciprian Dumitrascu
Director / DP / Editor