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You used to be able to count on Oliver Stone for a good shot or two of cinematic adrenaline. So, who would have thought he’d choose to present one of the most controversial figures of the 21st Century as warm, fuzzy, and more than a bit boring?

Things are sure promising in the beginning. Stone, himself, appears on camera, setting us up with just the right pitch of eye-gleaming zeal, reminding us those phones we’re attached to could be getting us in more trouble than we know. That and that we should please turn them off, at least during the movie. I laughed out loud and strapped myself in for what I assumed would be a quite a ride.

What we get is more of a pretty afternoon drive in the country. We begin as Snowden, an appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, meets up with Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). I couldn’t help but compare this recreation with what we saw in Poitras’ remarkable documentary, Citizen Four, and these scenes do compare well. Much of the rest of the film is told in flashback, showing us Snowden’s experience in boot camp, his early days at the CIA, how he met his devoted partner, Lindsay Mills. As wonderful as it is to see Shailene Woodley on screen, I never expected a film about this polarizing man who, view him heroically or not, indisputably changed the world, to spend so much time focusing on his girlfriend problems.

Stone moves the story along nicely so, plotwise, we’re traveling well. We may be surprised that someone who created computer programs the government could use to spy is surprised when it does, albeit in more wide ranging ways. And we may be surprised at what a somewhat ordinary personality this bold man seems to be. I sure was, when I saw it in Citizen Four. Here, it’s just fact. We’re left to our own, to whip up a personal fury either for or against what we’re seeing. Stone’s view is clear, but not urgent. And that, to me, was the biggest surprise of all.

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