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by Greg Ursic

"They really are out to get you...."
3 stars

Hero. Whistleblower. Traitor. Regardless how you view the actions of Edward Snowden, his revelations of the extent of the government’s domestic spying programs were enough to make everyone want to don an aluminum helmet. Unlike most documentaries which feature after-the-fact examinations of past events, documentarian Loira Poitra provides viewers with a front row seat to pre-game show, which makes Citizenfour all the more unsettling.

While Snowden's story is familiar to anyone who watches the news, people know precious little about the man behind the computer and Poitras does him justice. It’s quickly evident that Snowden sincerely believes that the public needs to know what is happening. Laid back, and self-assured, he repeatedly insists that the story focus on the information and not become about him (unlike Wikileaks founder Julain Assange) even though he knows it is inevitable. Snowden does this knowing willingly and readily accepts that there will be consequences for his actions, ranging from a loss of freedom and family to potentially much more.

Poitras, with Snowden’s assistance, lays bare the nature and scope of the government’s subterfuge which includes coercing cell phone companies and internet providers to turn over vast amounts of information about their customers and scanning every overseas call. More disturbing is how the collection of data (aka metadata) is used to construct a frighteningly detailed picture of people’s day-to-day lives (without the benefit of context), and the range of programs under development to surreptitiously gather more information.

It’s especially interesting how the exchange of communication changes between Snowden and the journalists changes as the story progresses. Poitras also captures the physical toll Snowden experiences as the stories finally start to come out; gone is the wistful smile, and cheery demeanour, yet through it all, his resolve never fails. There are however some problems with the piece.

The story tends to jumps around a lot, there are several long sequences where nothing of substance happens, Poitras’ reading of e-mails as they print out across the screen are unnecessary and there are too many newsclips of the unfolding events.

If you can slog through the flat sections, Citizenfour strips away the hyperbole and provides genuine insights into the man responsible for one, if not the, biggest intelligence leaks in modern history. It's also a testament of what it means to take a stand based on principle. The most disturbing thing about the story is that most people have already forgotten about it.

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originally posted: 11/27/14 17:34:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Palm Springs Film Festival For more in the 2015 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/28/14 Butt Not quite up to Poitras' previous work but very well done 4 stars
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  24-Oct-2014 (R)
  DVD: 25-Aug-2015


  DVD: 25-Aug-2015

Directed by
  Laura Poitras

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