The Daily Banter

MEMBERS ONLY: A Greenwald/Snowden Critic’s Review of ‘Citizenfour’ (It Was Actually Damn Good)

Written by Bob Cesca

It's possible to love a movie that's factually screwy. It's also possible to love a movie about unlikable people. As Chez Pazienza and I discussed on our membership-only podcast The After Party, Oliver Stone's JFK is a somewhat appropriate relative of Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning Citizenfour. Both movies possess similar levels of over-the-top conspiratorial tension; both movies are shaky on facts and context; and both movies contain absolutely riveting scenes in which a character divulges top secret information while hiding in a hotel room.

JFK is, on the other hand, historical fiction, while Citizenfour is a documentary -- a format that's supposed to be non-fiction. However, it's possible to dispute the delivery of what are comported as "facts" in either format, while admiring each movie as being significant achievements in filmmaking. In other words, it'd be naive to assume that all documentaries are unbiased and indisputably factual, even the really excellent ones.

Knowing all this, and as I mentioned last week, I loved Citizenfour. I realize the deep irony in such a review given how I've been slamming the reporting surrounding Ed Snowden since day one (I stand by all of it), as well as Glenn Greenwald's national security reporting for several years prior to that, but I tend to give filmmakers far more latitude because while documentaries can be journalism, they don't have to be held to the same standards in order to be great. First and foremost, documentary films are about storytelling. Political messages or hard news reporting are a distant second and third on the list.

While the NSA and GCHQ reporting in The Guardian and The Intercept were based almost exclusively on the Snowden documents, Citizenfour is a documentary about Snowden more than anything or anyone else. Indeed, the movie is named after him, not NSA or GCHQ. It's not called... CONTINUE READING