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]."

Snowden_laura_poitras_oliver_stoneCredit: 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."

Snowden_01Credit: 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.