Citizenfour (2014) Poster

(2014)

User Reviews

Review this title
107 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
9/10
Solid, Powerful
mlwehle27 October 2014
I thought Citizenfour was quite powerful as a humanizing portrayal of Snowden. I didn't learn anything new particularly about NSA programs, since I've been reading each story I come across, but the film quite effectively transported me into Snowden's hotel room in Hong Kong and into conversations with Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras and MacAskill. Snowden comes off as a completely responsible, quite sincere, thoughtful young man. He very clearly and explicitly says that he does not want to be the story, and one believes him. Whereas Assange can impress people as narcissistic and Bradley/Chelsea Manning's sexual confusion was only one of a number of facets which distracted from Cablegate, Snowden sounds like a young Ellsberg – very intelligent and well-spoken.

Poitras's style was interesting, I thought. The camera a number of times holds for lengthy periods on fairly static shots of architecture, which served to impress the viewer with the monolithic, pervasive nature of the NSA's networks. There's a long disorienting shot out the window of a train at night or going through a tunnel, which draws you into the dark network Snowden's revealing.

The film successfully touches on a number of different aspects of the surveillance state, bringing in the idea that when we talk about "privacy" we're talking about security, about our constitutional right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure. I think this is a hard sell for too many viewers. I don't fault the film here. I saw it with a friend who was a few minutes late because she was watching the Giants' game. In discussing the movie afterward she questioned just how important some of the issues raised were. Greenwald and others speak passionately about the dangers of the surveillance state, but my date pointed out that she can't feel much fear that the NSA is going to be breaking down her door because of anything she's said on the phone or in e-mail. My own experience is that friends and colleagues on the one hand self-censor and don't mention politics, drugs, Bittorrent use, etc. in e-mail or social media for fear of the all-knowing eye, or on the other hand seem oblivious to any danger – why worry about Google programmatically reading every single e-mail sent or received, if it means free e-mail and potentially more accurate search results when shopping? Snowden at one point convincingly says he doesn't think it is possible for anyone no matter how brilliant and educated to individually fight all the electronic surveillance systems in existence. We're told of the multitude of methods of surveillance and repeatedly shown NSA officials blatantly lying to Congress about their existence. The lack of accountability for this last has been personally troubling to me – I remember Watergate and Iran-Contra – how is it that the heads of the NSA can with impunity flat out lie to Congress about spying on American citizens? What will viewers come away with when walking out of the theater after Citizenfour? I'm wondering how many will see it as a call to action, and how many as a well-executed depiction of Edward Snowden's experience, which may not be seen as intersecting our own.
180 out of 199 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
After seeing "Citizenfour", you will have to remind yourself that this was not a work of fiction.
texshelters9 December 2014
Citizenfour Scores a 10

If you never want to see a bad film in the theater again, I suggest you limit your viewing to documentaries. They are far better on average than fictional fare. Case in point: "Citizenfour."

"Citizenfour" tells the story of Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents. Those documents reveal how our government, with the cooperation of major telecom and internet companies, has been surveilling our electronic communications. Moreover, our government has been spying on electronic communications around the world. You might ask, "Haven't they been doing this for years?" Yes, they have, but that was mainly (not exclusively, unfortunately) when there was probably cause, a warrant, or a history of criminal activity of the target. They have now been looking at everyone's communications without cause, and this can have a chilling effect on private communications and thought, journalism and our right to petition the government.

"Citizenfour" hits all the marks of a good documentary: it is topical, relevant, well organized and thought provoking. It is quietly dramatic and not overblown. In fact, the director could have manufactured more drama out of the subject through editing and dramatic music if desired. The restraint serves the film well.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras interviews Edward Snowden from the time he leaves his job at Booz Allen as an NSA analyst to leak the famous NSA documents that reports the spying programs up to the time his identity as the NSA whistle-blower is revealed. I thought I knew enough about this case, that there was no need to see this movie. I was wrong. Throughout the film, we see Snowden explain his decision making process, and what we see is revelatory. If people thought that Snowden was in it for fame or attention, watching this film will change that perception. Snowden was dismayed at the government surveillance of ordinary citizens and made a choice to leak that information. He did not name names and as far as he is concerned, did not reveal any information vital to U.S. security.

Heads of the NSA and other security agencies are shown in the film denying the existence of the surveillance program to Congress and on news programs. Other whistle-blowers or people investigating the program are interviewed or shown testifying such as former NSA intelligence agent William Binney. As the movie unfolds, so do the revelations of the extent of the spying program as it did in the London Guardian and other media outlets. First, U.S. domestic spying was revealed, then international spying, then spying on officials in other countries, even German Chancellor Merkel. Suffice to say, I knew some about the program but not the extent and the manner in which it unfolded.

What the film did was allow Snowden and Greenwald to take control of their own narrative, wrest it away from the mainstream media and government propaganda machine. Some of the shots in the movie start out of focus because Poitras started filming when something important was being said and to cut the takes for focus issues would have been unnecessary. Besides, the focusing was metaphorical of the main characters', Snowden and Greenwald, attempt to get a focus on the issues. We are brought along in this process. More effects and camera tricks could have been used to enhance the drama in the film, but the director wisely made a choice to focus on the content and characters. "Citizenfour", unlike all the overly dramatic movies from Hollywood, is a case of substance over style.

Rating: Pay Full Price, see it twice

There is little to complain about in the film other than I wanted more. The cinematography is not award winning, but it's exactly what the film needed. The timing in the film and editing were excellent. The director's choices were precisely what this story required.

Peace, Tex Shelters
154 out of 170 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
The most important documentary of the year
jamesdamnbrown1 November 2014
As I write this, a few days after the film's release, so far only three users have posted reviews about it on IMDb. Given that the film ends with the revelation that 1,200,000 people are on the US government's watchlist of people under surveillance, if you're contemplating adding a positive review, the first question that you have to ask yourself is: will this make me number 1,200,001? I've followed the media stories detailing the contents of the documents Snowden leaked, so that part of the film wasn't new to me, and in fact I felt some of Snowden's more serious disclosures were underexplored in the film, maybe because of their somewhat technical nature. If you're looking for a documentary that lays out in detail all the ins and outs of what the NSA is up to, this isn't it. The main strength of the film lies in its portrait of Snowden as a person. The filmmaker and other journalists basically meet Snowden in person for the first time with cameras running, and it's fascinating to watch them getting to know one another in such a highly charged, high stakes situation. Snowden is very articulate and precise, and obviously motivated by a very moral sense of right and wrong, in much the same way as Daniel Ellsberg. Whether or not you agree with Snowden, the film definitely undercuts criticism of him as being unpatriotic or mercenary. The documentary works well as an introduction to the Snowden story for those only casually aware of it, and also as a tense real world political thriller, sort of like Three Days Of The Condor come to life, but without the gunmen and Faye Dunaway. All in all, a very important film that everyone should see.
149 out of 166 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
everything changes from here
lee_eisenberg16 November 2014
Edward Snowden went from obscurity to fame overnight when he blew the whistle on the NSA's massive espionage program in June 2013. Litigator-turned-reporter Glenn Greenwald got recognized as the person helping Snowden expose the story, along with The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill and The Washington Post's Barton Gellman. But while the world saw the footage of Snowden speaking in the hotel room in Hong Kong, there was another person in the room with him, Greenwald and MacAskill: Laura Poitras, who filmed the interview. "Citizenfour" (the name that Snowden used when he contacted Poitras) tells the story of the interview and international reaction to Snowden's revelations.

It took guts to film and release this documentary. I think that in the end, the main outcome of Snowden's revelations is that the US's and UK's reputations are ruined. The documentary includes footage of hearings on the surveillance in Brazil (whose president was a victim of the surveillance) and Belgium (the seat of the European Union, whose heads of state were victims). I suspect that the peoples of Eastern Europe are the most befuddled by the revelations. For years under the Soviet occupation they looked to the US as a beacon of freedom, and now they see that the US is no different from the USSR. The British government, meanwhile, comes across as a US proxy in Europe.

"Citizenfour" is a documentary that not only deserves a lot of recognition, but should spark more discussion about the surveillance apparatus. As for Edward Snowden, he remains in political asylum in Russia, and his partner Lindsay Mills has joined him there. Oliver Stone is now making a movie about his revelations. In the meantime, I recommend the documentary.
129 out of 148 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Walk a Mile in his Shoes
ferguson-620 November 2014
Greetings again from the darkness. Edward Snowden. You know the name and you know the story. Hero of the People or Enemy of the State? Ultimate Patriot or a double-spy for the Russians? Protected as a Whistle-Blower or Guilty of Treason? Chances are you long ago made up your mind on how you view Ed (his stated name preference).

In January 2013, Snowden contacted documentarian Laura Poitras via an anonymous email name "Citizenfour". By June, the two were meeting in a Hong Kong hotel along with journalist Glenn Greenwald. What follows is a mesmerizing look at the actual footage shot of Greenwald interviewing Snowden. This is Ed Snowden before the media storm. This is Ed Snowden continually proclaiming that he is not the story, and he is trusting Greenwald to determine what documents are fit for public release. He voices concern about jeopardizing national security, while at the same time being adamant about exposing the immense and widespread governmental tracking of digital movements by millions of people … most with no known ties to terrorism.

The timeline is public record, so the core of the film is really an intimate look at the man who, acutely aware of the coming fallout, proceeded with pulling the curtain back on NSA actions that he deemed inappropriate. Ms. Poitras structures the film as a thriller, and it will certainly cause tension in every viewer. We can't help but put ourselves in Snowden's shoes. Would we feel the need to go public with proof? Who would we tell? How would we tell them? Would we be willing to release our name, knowing it could put everyone we love in danger? Would we be prepared to watch our President publicly call us out as unpatriotic and a danger to the nation? These questions are impossible for us to answer, but add weight to the scenes of Snowden answering Greenwald's questions while Ms. Poitras works the camera.

One of the more interesting points made in the movie is that what we once termed individual freedom and liberties, is now couched as privacy. We have come to expect our privacy, and certainly don't appreciate our government digging through our emails, search history, texts and phone calls. But how to balance the individual "right" to privacy with the government's need to collect intelligence in the name of national security? That's the key question, and one with no clear answer.

Regardless of your opinion on Snowden and his actions, the film presents him as an idealist believing he is doing the right thing. Most of this occurs before the media firestorm, but we do see the anticipated fallout. Once Snowden goes into hiding, we witness Greenwald becoming the face and voice of the cause. He is a talented journalist and exceptional speaker, and doesn't back down from the reaction of those who stand accused.

The film allows us to take notice of the personal attacks on Snowden as an attempt discredit his documentation. Making Snowden the story distracted the media and the general public from the real issue. It's a fascinating film that will surely make you uncomfortable and cause re-evaluation of the chain of events. You may not change your mind, but you will most certainly have a better understanding of the human side.
72 out of 81 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Documentary gold.
jdesando13 November 2014
"We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind." Ed Snowden

Welcome to a real-time documentary that doesn't have a political agenda yet covers the most controversial and important whistle blowing in this century. Edward Snowden disclosed extensive information mining of US citizens by NSA and other agencies. Laura Poitras's thrilling but sometimes slow documentary takes us to Hong Kong to witness Snowden's alarming the world about the US spying on its citizens and world leaders among others.

Citizenfour (the handle Snowden used when communicating) keeps the audience front row and center as Snowden makes contact with director Laura Poitras to arrange footage of his process, and most importantly with reporter Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian to write about this game-changing event. Neither is hesitant to take on the story, possibly because of its incendiary nature and the honesty of the whistleblower.

This story is like a great Jason Bourne spy story (without the glamour and tensions) pitting former intelligence operative Snowden against the great American political and media machines. In the outside world, German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock that the US was monitoring her cell phone conversations.

Poitras smartly includes President Obama condemning Snowden as unpatriotic and a danger to the American people, an argument going on even as you read this review. Curiously, the documentary makes no argument and goes easy on the suspense, making significant historical cinema but not gripping drama.

The so far unanswerable question is whether he's a hero or a traitor. The Snowden exposed to the ever present harsh light of camera and mics seems completely at peace with himself as he considers the rough life he has elected as a whistleblower. Indeed we are fortunate to see him at the most stressful point in his life being cool and level-headed. While Poitras makes sure we get to know him intimately, she never loses sight of the fact that this doc is about government spying.

Citizenfour is a fascinating, risky, and brave film for everyone who is interested in the challenges of truth telling.
82 out of 94 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Great subject, average execution
siderite25 February 2015
I really appreciate what Snowden did and this film only raises my level of gratitude because it shows the man as well as the information he disclosed. Given this and the risk a filmmaker takes when recording a sensitive subject like this, I do think that the makers of Citizenfour should be praised.

However, once you start watching it you realize that it is made from the same mold that other revelatory, controversial or conspiracist documentaries are made from. The Oscar is not for the quality of the film as it is for the subject. And, assuming that you are informed about the case - I still get the shivers when I see that most people I meet don't even know who Snowden is, you might find it difficult to understand why this movie is better than others, cinematically speaking.

Also, I feel that the film was way too focused on the journalistic process and too little on the actual meaning of the information or the aftermath of the disclosures. It is, actually, a human angle story more than a documentary about the biggest intelligence reveal of the last century. While not a bad thing, it is ironically what Snowden repeatedly said he does not want: to be the center of the story.

One gets to feel the alienation and pervasive angst that Snowden felt, even if this is sometimes done through cheap soundtrack tricks. One sees a smiling 29 year old become burdened more and more as time goes by. Less smiling, more dark patches under the eyes, more bewildered looks. And this while staying in hotels and having communication with people that relay his information and while being protected by a nation state. It is unimaginable what a normal person, without this safety net, would feel.

Bottom line: certainly worth watching, not so sure about the Oscar thing, but as long as that raises awareness of the subject matter, it is also worthy.
11 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Watching history unfold before our eyes
howard.schumann20 November 2014
We all know that, in today's world, telling the truth may set you free, but it can also make you an inmate or a corpse. Activist folk singer Joan Baez, however, reminds us that, "Courage has to do with being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway." It is a fitting description of whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose story is told by the Oscar-nominated American filmmaker Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country) in her intimate and intense documentary Citizenfour. Snowden, a 29-year-old former NSA contractor and intelligence analyst, aware of the serious personal and legal consequences, nevertheless exposed the fact that the government, in the name of fighting terrorism, was spying on all American citizens and those of other countries, in every area of their lives, whether they were suspected of wrongdoing or not.

According to Snowden, he was able to access anyone's records, bypassing codes, passwords and encryptions and said, "We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind." As the film begins, Poitras tells us in voice-over that, when she was working on a film about the dismantling of personal freedoms after the terrorist attack on 9/11, she began to receive encrypted e-mails with the codename of Citizenfour, revealing the desire to come forward with startling information about government surveillance.

One of the e-mails told her that "In the end, if you publish the source material, I will likely be immediately implicated. I ask only that you ensure that this information makes it home to the American public." The film almost exclusively relies on edited conversations, mainly between Snowden and author and journalist Glenn Greenwald interspersed with TV news reports, courtroom trials, and Senate hearings where officials are shown lying at hearings about the government's role in data collection. It does not pretend to be objective and there is no debate about any of the issues brought up in the film or the efficacy of Snowden's actions. It is his story, told from his point of view.

Interviewed by Poitras (who is unseen), Greenwald, at the time working for the Guardian, and reporter Ewen MacAskill in a room at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong where Snowden remained in seclusion for eight days, the heretofore unknown whistleblower reveals his identity for the first time saying that he wants to come out publicly as the source of the information, to show the NSA "I'm not going to let you bully me into silence, like you have everyone else." Snowden says that he made the decision to come forward because he feels there's a great threat to the future of American free speech. "The elected and the electorate," he says, have become "the ruler and the ruled."

Though he says repeatedly that he is not the issue and his personality should not deflect attention from the material disclosed, the human angle nonetheless becomes an important part of the film and we have an opportunity to assess the personality and character of man who has already played an important role in history. Through all of the discussion of his methods and the nature of the material he revealed, Snowden presents his case in an eloquent manner, remaining calm and centered, saying that he anticipated the consequences and is prepared for them.

One of the few times he shows emotion is when talking about the government's interrogation of his girlfriend who, he says, knows nothing about his activities. The tension is palpable, however, and the film takes on aspects of a spy thriller when, after the information has gone public, everyone in the hotel room reacts with paranoia to the fire alarm testing going on in the hotel. Communication, however, eventually reverts to coded e-mails which Poitras shows on the screen when Snowden seeks asylum in Moscow. Though it reveals no new information that hasn't already been reported all over the world during the past eighteen months, Citizenfour is fascinating to observe as history unfolds before our eyes, offering the look and feel of immediacy, not that of a historical retrospective.

While it has taken several years, the warning message in Al Gore's 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth on the potentially disastrous results of climate change seems at long last to be getting through, though even now, it may be too little, too late. When it comes to our right to privacy in today's wired world, however, the prospects are not as bright. Though perhaps preaching to the choir, the film is an important reminder that in the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," or those of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass who said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." This film begins to crystallize that demand.
71 out of 86 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Go and see this documentary!
stamford117 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A very interesting documentary - both thought and discussion provoking!

Although it didn't provide very much 'new' information to those already familiar with the events of last year (other than the revelation about a second whistle-blower at the end), this documentary puts together many elements previously made public (i.e. article releases, TV interviews, legal and political hearings etc.) in a contiguous time-frame, so that anyone not immediately familiar with the subject matter could fully understand both the time-line of events and the impact of 'Snowdengate'.

Following the screening this evening a Q & A took place with the Director Laura Poitras joining via Skype. Unfortunately the connection dropped out several times (consipiracy theorists of the world unite) but it was a useful session nonetheless!

I would definitely recommend this movie/documentary, whether you agree or disagree with Snowden's actions and the subsequent consequences of them.
59 out of 73 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Snowden is a hero.
peefyn2 March 2015
This documentary has it all. The narrative is compelling, but honest to the reality it portrays. The work on the documentary began before the Snowden files started leaking, and it gives you an unprecedented look into how it all came about. It gives you an understanding of who Edward Snowden is and why he did what he did. He was not just some guy who stumbled over something he realized that someone else might find useful. He knew exactly what he had, and what to do about it.

And not only this: The documentary manages to convey the significance of the leak. What power the information held, and just how bad the NSA is.

The only negative thing I can say about it is that it opens a bit slow, and the technical aspects of it might scare of some viewers.

It's amazing that this is the world we live in. Snowden is a hero.
9 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
"Oh what joy, in the open air freely to breathe again!"
jakob1310 November 2014
Citizenfour begins in a tunnel with dim overhead tubing. The scene is disorienting for we don't know exactly where we are.

A.O. Scott of the Times suggests that Laura Poitras' tightly edited documentary might presage a "dystopian allegory." It might also represent a birth canal through a new born will emerge.

And then suddenly bright sunshine bursts into view. For, the exciting first scenes of Citizenfour promises the same exhilaration of freedom that Beethoven's opera Fidelio's "Prisoners Chorus" as prisoners emerge from the bowels of prison, into the light of day and gleefully sing "Oh what joy, in the open air freely to breathe again!" Monday, June 3, 2013 is the day the world of the National Security Council (and other intelligence agencies) secrecy metaphorically died as Edward Snowden let loose on the world the dirty little secrets that the US government, through the abuse of "spyware" was keeping tabs globally of the private thoughts of nearly everyone, regardless of caste or class. Dramatically, Poitras builds tension, as a voice off the screen, muted in tone and pitch—the better to create a sense of balance, in a documentary that has already been attacked for being partisan—through the use of the first e-mails Snowden began contact with her, as the text flashes in black and write across the screen in an old fashioned Hollywood spy caper.

More, she gives immediate substance to her viewers of what encryption is o outwit government hackers as in the following frames messages are quickly made readable in standard English. Not only that, this cinematic technique provides something graspable to the average Joe or Jane of, perhaps, cryptography and mega-data that are used daily in print or on television with endless repetition that might simply remains meaningless. So, Citizenfour also seeks to show the ordinary citizen the means of government intercepting Internet, tapping the telephone, sweeping billions of personal messages a day out of the public's view and behind closed doors.

Even through Snowden's exposure of abuses of "powers that be, with the connivance of corporations continue to disregard the constitutional and legal safeguards that protect US citizens from arbitrary rule.

Citizenfour is a film about the whistle blower Edward Snowden. Although we might think we know the man, Poitras' documentary introduces to Snowden in the flesh: a man who has risked his life and freedom to expose the American government's perversion of its democratic vocation and of conspicuous misuse of power. He comes across as a thoughtful young man, then 29, of substance, well centered and at peace with himself.

For eight days in Snowden's room in Hong Kong's Mira Hotel, Poitras filmed the conversations he had with Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian's defense and intelligence correspondent Ewan MacAskill patiently answering questions and with the patience of a teacher explaining the ins and outs of the deceitful spying that the NSA with the cooperation of friendly governments.

Her camera captured the former Booz Allen analyst on loan to the NSA who had no intentions of hiding his identity. Worried about Washington's vendetta to use the 1917Espionnage Act against whistleblowers exposing government malfeasance, Snowden left the US to sound the alarm of the oppressive control of the American spy agencies on the lives of ordinary citizens.

And if Snowden is crystal clear of anything, he is careful not to unnecessarily outing operatives, nor exposing them to bodily harm.

"Pin the target on my back," "nail me to the Cross," he says to Poitras, as he openly tells her that he is assuming full responsibility for leaking highly classified documents, not unlike the pope announcing urbi ed orbi his message od good will on New Year's.

Citizenfour, a last minute addition, kicked off the 2014 New York International Film Festival, as a character study of Edward Snowden, that Festival director called "icily chilling." For Stewart Klawans, Citizenfour is a "character necessary character study," to counter the campaign "to distract people from the substance of Snowden's revelations that predictably, entailed an effort to disparage him as a person."

And the film has become the object of attacking a person's character or motivations rather than a reasoned argument that Poitras' film presents. Simply look no further than Citizenfour's cast of characters—Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, William Binney, Julian Assange, Jeremy Scahill and Macaskill and The Guardian—all whistle blowers who have not shied away from exposing government and private industry deceptions and corruption.

So far, it looks as though Citizenfour is a strong contender for an Oscar in the best documentary category. Still, the spotlight is not on Snowden but MacArthur genius winner, George Polk and Pulitzer Prize recipient Poitras.

Her talent is obvious, so the coverage has hardly a hint of faint praise. Nonetheless, critics on Slate and Daily Beast see the chinks in her cinematic armor, and even The New Yorker's George Packer remains skeptical of what they see as Poitras' "advocacy journalism," riddled with simplification and broad generalizations.

She has become the handy scapegoat since Snowden is out of government's harm's way, living in perfect domesticity in Moscow, with his longtime companion, whom he thought he lost forever.

Although she like Greenwald and nameless millions if not billions will forever be under permanent US surveillance, Citizenfour is a strong antidote to our government's campaign to besmirch Snowden, Poitras and company who performed the daring act, in the case of unfettered US spying to say "the emperor is wearing no clothes." The strength of Poitras documentary lies in honesty and her sense of moderation and fair play: moral goodness that the talking heads will continue to attack and demean. And try as they might, thanks to Snowden the cat is out of the bag on the NSA. And yet, alas, the spying goes on., without a vigorous citizen countervailing force to blunt our government's abuse of power and rendering democracy a hollow shell.
71 out of 93 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
The Single-Most Groundbreaking Documentary I've Ever Seen
bloodclay6 December 2014
The most important film you will see all year - possibly ever - is "Citizenfour". This is the single-most groundbreaking documentary I've ever laid eyes on, surpassing some of Michael Moore's greatest works. The amount of people that will be affected due to the information in this film is staggering. Every American owes it to themselves to see this. It will undoubtedly change the way you operate and think in more ways than one.

As you may already know, the film centers around Edward Snowden, the much-talked about 'whistleblower' that leaked an enormous amount of top secret information concerning the National Security Agency. It revealed the many ways that the NSA was spying on billions of people, creating a huge political conversation.

However, "Citizenfour" in no way participates in that conversation. It doesn't try to debate whether it was right or wrong for them to do that, it leaves all of that up to its subject. That's one of the countless reasons why it succeeds. It isn't a documentary that needs a ton of flare, it's actually quite the opposite. It states the facts, lets us decide how we feel about it, and all in the most simplistic and brilliant manner.

The majority of it takes place in one hotel room where Laura Poitras (the director of the film) and Glenn Greenwald (the first journalist to leak the story) listen to everything Snowden has to say. We watch them go over the program files and documents that serve as the evidence of what the NSA has done - scenes that include astounding stats and figures - those being some of the most powerful moments I've ever witnessed. It's a gut-punch of a movie, but one that's undeniably needed.
74 out of 99 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Surveillance Creep
tieman644 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Laws written by cats have a way of adapting when the mice figure out a workaround. Sneak cameras into factory farms and you may get public outrage, grass-roots momentum or the passage of more humane laws. Then again, you might get laws that outlaw undercover journalism or redefine it as 'domestic terrorism'. Only mice have to obey the law. The cats? They can take it or leave it." - Peter Watts

A documentary by Laura Poitras, "Citizenfour" revolves around Edward Snowden, a former CIA system's administrator who blew the lid on a global spy-network run primarily by the United States' National Security Agency. Designed for global surveillance, this clandestine network intercepts mountains of data, recording most global internet and telecommunications traffic, as well as international traffic flowing via undersea fibre optic cables.

All superpowers throughout history have spied on their populaces and neighbours, but none were able to cook up anything as insidious as the NSA. Email records, telephone conversations, shopping records, medical records, banking records, internet records, text messages, digital profiles...virtually everything with a digital or electromagnetic footprint is automatically gobbled up by this network. Capable of simultaneously recording and storing every phone-call occurring within entire continents, this network extends across the planet, gathering data and meta-data on millions of ordinary people around the world. It also tracks cellphone locations, can hack cellphone conversations, and is capable of hacking its way into most encrypted consumer products. Such data mining occurs thanks to NSA alliances with major companies (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Youtube, AOL, Skype etc) and major countries (Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Israel). The NSA also spies on and collects data stored within the data centres of major corporations, giving it access to the daily habits, thoughts, words and actions of billions. Currently this spy-network has numerous ancillary branches (PRISM, Tempora, Stellar Wind, Dishfire, MUSCULAR, Project 6, Stateroom, ECHELON, CO-TRAVELER), most of which have changed their names or expanded further since Snowden's 2013 revelations.

Thus far, such acts of "warrantless surveillance" have not been legally challenged or meaningfully reformed. Indeed, this spy-network has only gotten larger. The NSA has defended its networks, stating that it "stops terrorists", but revelation after revelation has shown that they have no impact on terrorism, and are primarily used to spy on civilians, political activists, diplomats, commercial entities, environmental groups, corporations and global policy makers. The NSA, in short, is in the business of economic espionage, protecting Western mega-corporate, mega-trade and mega-banking interests. "The police are the right arm of corporate power," Jack London wrote in 1902; the NSA now functions the same way. Consider, for example, project OLYMPIA, which exclusively spies on Brazil's ministry of mining and energy. Even when NSA intel is used in "warzones" to kill "terrorists" ("We kill people based on meta-data." - Michael Hayden, NSA director), such extra-legal killings are "validated" via "inference" not "proof".

Stylistically, "Citizenfour" recalls the paranoid, conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s. It's also unique in the way it captures history, the documentary simply watching as Snowden locks himself in a hotel room and begins leaking information to journalists. These scenes are quiet, intimate, and creepily banal, like being in Gandhi's bedroom the day he decided to take on the largest Empire in the world. Elsewhere director Laura Poitras captures Snowden's naivety, intelligence, strength and fragility, as well as the faint traces of doubt that periodically wash across his face.

Today, nobody cares that global surveillance has effectively inverted the law (everyone is now assumed to be guilty). Populaces have reached a state of impotency, apathy and disinterest. "If you're not doing anything wrong, why should you worry?" is itself the prevailing attitude of world leaders, their words echoing the words Hermann Goring used to defend Nazi surveillance policies half a century earlier ("little fish have nothing to fear").

But anyone familiar with history should be worried. For most of the last century, US intelligence has been at war with civil rights activists, minorities, workers and student activists, killing, destroying careers, ruining innocent lives and manipulating both the media and political process. These networks cause worse damage abroad, responsible - directly and indirectly - for countless millions of deaths. Sadly, the last time NSA spying programs (the SHAMROCK and MINARET leaks of the 1970s) were revealed, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before (the secret FISA courts). Will history repeat itself?

"We are building the largest weapon for the oppression of mankind," Snowden says in "Citizenfour", before hinting that these networks should be feared primarily because they allow for the controlling of information. Historically, all social progress has been made by the ability to talk, think, hide, break the law and oppose the ruling ideology. But the NSA's networks allow for the policing of thought, information and the pinpoint crushing of dissent (already the US military is running thousands of sock-puppets on internet forums, so as to steer conversations); keep the masses distracted, on script and consuming.

Unsurprisingly, Snowden leaked his material to the Guardian newspaper, the last mainstream left-wing newspaper in the United Kingdom, and a woman (Laura Poitras) with radical credentials. Also present is journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is revealed to be homosexual. Greenwald's presence recalls, not only transgender whistle-blower Bradley Manning, but the many whistleblowers/defectors of the 1970s, whom the CIA and NSA attempted to slander with the label of "homosexual" (they were all heterosexual). Proudly seeing itself as a giant cauldron of masculinity, the US military has long deemed everything opposing it to be "soft", "impure" and "feminine". Today, in our more politically correct world, the US military has changed its stance. Orwell writ large, Western warriors are now "feminine", "caring", "soft" and "compassionate", killing you gently in the name of love. How can you oppose monsters so enlightened?

8.9/10 – See "The War You Don't See" (2011).
7 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Somebody is watching me! Oh how true plus they listen to phone call monitor emails and collect computer data! An eye opening film!
blanbrn11 December 2014
Director Laura Poitras has made an interesting and eye opening documentary called "Citizenfour" which showcases the story and the actual interviews in Hong Kong of whistle blower Edward Snowden. Everyone remembers in the news the story of the NSA scandal it became clear to everyone that the federal government was doing privacy invasion on nearly all citizens of the united states. I know you feel the same way it's clear that a lot of times you hear your phone and cell calls monitored and true at work, when you shop, or go to the bank or even drive thru a traffic red light your on camera! Simple no one has privacy in the world, true as mentioned in the film 911 changed a lot of things still the NSA in my opinion has took it to far with their worldwide programs with the spying on emails and the data collection that is sold to other agency types it's like the feds know where you go everything you do and who you see! It's sad that we as citizens have to give up our privacy because of terror of other nations. Still it's an ever lasting issue really see this documentary it's revealing, provocative, educational, and blunt as it proves we as citizens don't have any privacy when it comes to freedom as your calls, emails, viewing choices, travels, and data is all looked at and matched it's time we had more people like Edward Snowden as a whistle blower can be a hero.
30 out of 46 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A Man Without a Country
jadepietro22 December 2014
This film is recommended.

Traitor or hero? Idealist or cynic? Whistleblower or pawn? No matter one's opinions, Edward Snowden remains a fascinating person and this documentary analyzes his actions and motives. The filmmakers met him at the outset of his controversial decision to leak pertinent and highly classified information to the world about the underhanded dealings of the National Security Agency under the guise of homeland protection.

Laura Poitras, who was directly contacted with some encrypted e-mails from Edward Snowden, under the alias of citizenfour, directs this documentary as it follows his rise and fall as those stolen NSA documents are leaked to the public. These copies expose the international spying of thousands of American citizens and other foreign nationals. Filmed in Hong Kong, prior to his exile to Russia, Citizenfour documents Snowden as he becomes a man without a country. Articulate and appearing sincere, one senses his moralistic stance and his principles, but also his naivety when dealing with ruthless and powerful forces.

Poitras' film is a series of perfectly timed moments of news-in-the-making as she captures historic footage of the beginnings of a political bombshell that will escalate into an international scandal of epic proportions. The filmmaker develops a rapport and admiration with Snowden, which tends to bias her documentary, as she takes aim at the governmental spin to discredit him.

Nevertheless, what gives Citizenfour its real impact is its behind-the-scenes look at the misconduct and cover-ups of a nation, involving espionage wrongdoing by the American government and the unethical invasion of privacy of its people, via their phone and internet connections.

The film is extremely well made but lacking in innovative editing or artful photography. It's purely interview after interview, one talking head-shot after the next. The lengthy interviews between Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the investigative reporter who broke the story, make up most of the film. But these sections are in need of some judicious editing as they go on far too long, even if they are historically significance moments in time.

Citizenfour is an important film about important issues. Its subject matter deals with larger issues of sacrifice, patriotism, and paranoia. A flip of the coin and one can see the film as sheer propaganda, intense political thriller, or a passionate film about our basic civil rights. It raises questions about our essential loss of freedom and our need for bigger and better surveillance tactics to fight terrorism and preserve homeland security at any costs.

Citizenfour remains a thought-provoking treatise on our politics post 9/11 and the fallout of one man's actions to make a change. GRADE: B

ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

Visit my blog at: www.dearmoviegoer.com
12 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Snowden, the man who cried wolf? Hero or...something else?!
loco_739 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Amidst the ho-hum rhythm of the big holiday blockbusters endlessly marching to the drumbeat of massive audiences (myself included)sits this year's most important movie, and I daresay of many, many years...that movie is "Citizenfour"(it being Edward Snowden's on-line alias).

Though the analogy to George Orwell's bone-chilling novel, his piece de resistance on oppression and authoritarianism, "1984", has already been made ad nauseam, I would not exaggerate that after seeing this movie, you might just end up feeling as if you already inhabit the dreadful world soo vividly and painstakingly depicted by Orwell, miserable by miserable detail. I know I did once I walked out of the movie theatre. That was until my brain and sense of self was once again taken prisoner and atrophied by the banalities of daily life, which consume soo much of our personal existence these days. Mea culpa.

While, given its quite widespread effect and reach, the story and name of Edward Snowden are familiar or even well known to the public at large (or so we think), "Citizenfour" tells the tense and uneasy story of Edward Snowden from his point of view and in his own words, as captured and related by filmmaker Laura Poitras, over the span of a few fascinating days spent in a hotel room in Hong Kong in 2013. Ms. Poitras, who herself felt the heat of being associated with this project, in fact becomes the eye through which we view this entire film unfolding.

While Poitras paints the cinematic portrait of Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald (also personally affected by his association with Snowden) who also features quite prominently in the movie, became the go-to person who gave form and shape to Snowden's quest, and for all intents and purposes was his voice, the one who amplified the entirety of Snowden's revelations.

To say that this movie is relevant and important, would do a disservice to this movie and all the parties involved. It is not only that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, but it is also supremely urgent and needed for all of us as a cautionary tale for ourselves, a highlighted message towards our own sense of self, our identities and the sum parts which combine to form us as individual human beings worthy of a dignified existence punctuated by liberty and freedom.

In this Age Of Information of ours, it is mind boggling how nonchalant we seem to be going on about our privacy and our self-worth as fully thinking rational beings, and how easily we surrender our essence, our identity be it flesh-and-bone or digital, to the vague powers that be reigning over us, powers whom we seldomly recognize, define or have an input on the control and influence they exercise over our lives. Be it the NSA, the CIA, the military-industrial complex, or whatever other format you may want to consider, make no mistake the bogeyman is real, not some imagined threat in a science-fiction movie, more akin to a fully realized nightmare.

The movie plays out as heartbreaking and sad as it does relevant, scary and vividly engrossing. It shows a man, his beliefs, warts and all, shortcomings and positives, pluses and minuses and how his actions have played out in our increasingly cluttered and messy world, one where we can barely recognize ourselves and our self-worth.

While Snowden's narrative has been largely dictated, made-up and written up by countless incarnations of the media, pundits, official mouthpieces, bloggers and so-called experts, I would urge people to go and see this movie for themselves, and make up their own minds as to whether they think Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain, a brave soul or a miserable coward. Think for yourselves, make up your own minds and don't let others dictate what you should think or do.

Do not lose yourselves, which I think in the end is the point this documentary is trying to make.

Personally I think that Snowden is and will be an unsung hero. I think that many years from now, the generations who will come after us will look back upon the moment when he rang the alarm bell on what was happening to our world, but we were too busy, too deaf and too self-absorbed to pay any real attention...

"Is there something different here in the very nature of reality? Or is it that something violently new is about to happen..." William Gibson - "Idoru"
10 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Well-executed and revealing.
Sergeant_Tibbs24 January 2015
There's one documentary that breathes an air of importance you can feel from the poster. It'll probably win the Oscar on that basis. That film is Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, a film that documents Edward Snowden's leaks before he became a familiar face. He relays his point here, he doesn't want to be the story. He knows that's a matter of when and not if (his nickname of choice Citizenfour refers to how he's the fourth whistleblower for the NSA). Now that he is the story, here comes the perfect behind the scenes companion. I never knew much about Snowden, but this film humanizes him in a stripped down and honest if not a raw way. There's a brilliant moment early on with the first reveal of Snowden after Poitras mislead us with a female actor dictating his emails. You get a sense of this moment's significance - and then it blossoms all the way to President Obama. Sequences such as a fire alarm going off every minute keep you on edge, always aware of the paranoia in today's society. It operates on an interesting irony with how they're filming yet aware of surveillance. The documentary has a very matter-of-fact approach to its events but that's all it needs, and Poitras and her team get out of the way despite opening the film in an autobiographical way. Citizenfour puts faces on the controversy, remaining intelligent without being too dry to swallow. I may prefer other documentaries this year, including similarly themed The Internet's Own Boy, but it deserves the acclaim and attention. Very well-executed and revealing without being overly scare-mongering.

8/10
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Shocking truth about the personal privacy we seemingly have to accept
user-155-83219328 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This is the documentary which everyone should see, and which should be shown in every movie theater in every country, in a big scale. It tells us part of the raw truth for where this world is going and I think there's a reason why this has gotten so small media attention.

I stumbled upon to this film through LP's other documentaries, if that wouldn't happen it would be less than likely I would've seen this - very important and informative - documentary ever. Todays we live in the world of ignorance, where governments do what they do - without any transparency - and we just accept silently everything what is happening everywhere, in every country.

The governmental transparency globally is going to evolve to the way of secrecy and meanwhile our personal privacy is being invaded systematically and we can't do anything about if we wanna live normal life. Isn't that wrong in your opinion?
11 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Citizenfour: Welcome to my Top Three (Documentaries)
dansandini23 September 2015
Wow it's hard to overstate the brilliance of Citizenfour. As someone who has held clearances an worked for the DoD, I always felt Snowden was a traitor. Not any more. To me the Snowden story was an ethical dilemma: "do the ends justify the means?" Mr. Snowden you swore an oath and you broke that oath: go to jail, It seemed as simple as that. But what if you swear an oath supporting an organization sworn to protect and defend the Consstitution, and you find that said organization is systematically shredding the Constitution? In my book: the organization broke their promise which premised *your* promise: so all bets are off.

Onto the characters. Edward Snowden. What a set of brass ones! He could have easily have been murdered by the CIA but he eluded them. Laura Poitrous,Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill: thank you for risking your own personal well being and freedom and showing what real journalism is all about.

The emotion conveyed here is unreal. Like watching a horror film in slow motion where the killer is constantly in the room: only it's non fiction. The fear and paranoia are palpable. Then at times it was laugh out loud funny. By the end the viewer is left thinking: "I've lost track of how many kinds of wrong this is." The look on Snowden's face when he himself learns the traitor Barrack Obama (as much as Bush was) is systematically murdering Americans via remote control drone strike without the Right of due process ... is priceless.

To the Director of the film you will change hearts and minds here, and in the process perhaps save freedom itself. Hard to imagine what you'll do for an encore. Must see amazing film: *the* defining documentary of the decade.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Snowden is smart, eloquent, humble and surprisingly well glued together for a man who is about to become the most wanted man in the world by the American government!
dipesh-parmar9 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
'Citizenfour' is a documentary by Laura Poitras about the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) systems administrator Edward Snowden, who exposed possibly the greatest intelligence leak of modern times with revelations that the U.S. government blatantly and illegally violated civil liberties by spying and gathering data on all of us.

In 2013 when the leaks were exposed by the Guardian newspaper, Snowden had his movements filmed by Poitras. She came to the attention of the Department of Homeland Security with 'My Country, My Country', about life under US occupation in Iraq, and 'The Oath' which was filmed in Yemen and Guantánamo. Snowden confided in the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the three met up in Hong Kong to film Snowden's leak.

Snowden's leaks became the news story of this decade, even eclipsing Julian Assange's Wikileaks. Verizon, AT&T, and other telecoms companies opened hundreds of millions of phone records to the NSA, who in turn tapped into the data of Yahoo, Google and others. The NSA's PRISM surveillance program collected emails, texts, voicemails, and video chats of U.S. and global citizens. Their Stellar Wind programme was an enormous metadata-mining system, stealth operations called Dishfire, XKeyscore, and Tempora allowed the U.S. and other members of the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance (the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) access to our daily communications. They even hacked the UN's video conferencing system, tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone calls seemed a trifling matter in comparison to the immense surveillance operations taking place.

Snowden is smart, eloquent, humble and surprisingly well glued together for a man who is about to become the most wanted man in the world by the American government. Considering the magnitude of this story, everyone remains incredibly calm, not least Snowden! Its interesting to watch him, always reaffirming that the story is not about him when in reality it is, to begin with. He didn't tell anyone, not even his partner of over a decade, who he knew would be placed in danger if he had. Under so much pressure, he seems so well-balanced, there's no histrionics, and he certainly doesn't play up to the camera.

You can see that Snowden doesn't want to be in this position, he knew his life will change for the worse, but he knows the world needs to see what is going on in front of us. The magnitude of the surveillance was immense, near the end of the film we see the scared and paranoid Snowden and Greenwald exchanging written notes confirming revelations from a new source. They show us that 1.2 million Americans are under some stage of "watch", Snowden was flabbergasted, someone you wouldn't think could be surprised any more than he has been!

The sad fact is that its cinematic release, a year after the revelations were aired, raises the question of what's really changed? We still know so little, and it seems the status quo pervades. We don't really even know if the NSA, GCHQ and many others have stopped surveillance operations, so whoever you're calling or texting, or what websites or apps you're viewing, your privacy is probably being scrutinised.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
The Philosophy this man stood up to well worth propagating
Navaf5 March 2015
The Philosophy this man stood up to well worth propagating, CitizenFour follows the Story of the now famous NSA whistleblower Edaward Snowden. From the time he he traveled to Hong Kong, the documentary follows actual footage that was taken of him and the collaborating Journalists meeting and talking about the extent of the Espionage and violation of privacy that NSA and GCHQ was undertaking.

In truth the true Hero here is Edward Snowden not any of the other Journalists, it took courage to give up your comfortable life to live a life on the run. To be frank of all the leaked information leaked to the the media outlet Guardian, only a biased selected documents was published about, in my opinion insulting the efforts and ideals of what Edward Snowden stood for.

If even one of these privacy violations are on going and and you let it pass, remember you are the sheep being slowly led to the slaughter.

Speak out now.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Complete the news story by adding depth to the main character SNOWDEN
alanchanglobal-backup9 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Doesn't disappoint, but I did come out of the cinema with a heavy heart. Contrary to popular expectations, the documentary does not elaborate on the illegal surveillance acts, but focuses on Edward Snowden the person. (Quite ironic as Snowden repeatedly said in the movie that he is "not the story") Based on his well-articulated presentation and some candid camera-work by the director, Snowden's selfless motive is on clear display throughout the movie. The film also captures some tense moments during the days when Snowden was stuck in HK, which we have not seen on news interviews before. The dialogue between him and Glenn Greenward when he decided that he wasn't "fucking hiding" from the government was revelating.

One has to think about how governments around the world continue to take away our privacy in the name of security. To manage by fear is nothing new. One has to decide whether we should willingly give up our, what I call, "freedom of contemplation" so easily over some exaggerated risks. Not to mention, as it turns out, most of the surveillance were used for state or commercial espionage.

And even if it is done genuinely for security reason, the governments should follow the rule of law, or engage the public to change the law, instead of blatantly breaking the law and lie to the people. Having a so called "noble intention" is not good enough to break the law - no one has the right to decide what is good and what is not for others.

For details on the illegal surveillance acts, watch the documentary made by the PBS back in May.
12 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
A Missed Opportunity
thephantom-329 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film could have been riveting, should have at least been interesting, but was absolutely boring. The positive reviews that I have seen seem to be reviewing the story behind this film and not the film itself. I can sum up this film in ten words: Two hours of a guy sitting in a hotel room. In reality, it was only roughly 75% Snowden in a hotel room, but the other 25% of the film was just as boring.

This film could have achieved its potential by providing some interpretation of the information it was providing. Snowden say's a lot of technical things about computers and information that the film just leaves hanging in the air.

I don't think that this film can be spoiled, as it was awful, but I don't want to get blacklisted, so the following paragraphs MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

There was one scene during one of the early meetings between Snowden and Greenwald in which Snowden felt compelled to put a towel over his head and his laptop while he was doing something on the laptop. It was unclear why he was doing this and from whom he was trying to shield the information. I don't see why he would be shielding what he was doing from the people in the room, and I don't see how this measure would safeguard him from anybody outside the room. Some form of explanation might have been useful. This scene just made Snowden look like a paranoid crank who might just as well have been wearing a tinfoil hat.

A later scene showed some vertical video (Side-rant: video is a horizontal medium people; please stop shooting phone videos vertically), presumably shot with a phone, that depicted some guys in a workshop. One clip is of a guy using a drill on something, and the other is of a guy using a grinder on something. What were these guys tooling on? What was the significance?

Later in the film, Greenwald addresses some Brazilian politicians in Portuguese. This was one of the few explanatory bits in the film, and it's in a foreign language with subtitles. There was no cinematic value to letting the whole thing play in Portuguese. A few seconds of that situation would have established that he had addresses the Portuguese politicians, then it would have been better for clarity and impact to have him say it in English later.

Then there was the big pay-off! A scene of Snowden and Greenwald sitting in a room together with Greenwald speaking introductory phrases punctuated by the visual comma of him leaning over a table and scribbling the rest of his sentence on a piece of paper, which he hands to Snowden who reads it in astonishment. What do these notes say? They show one of them, which says that 1,200,000 people are under surveillance by the NSA, which Snowden reads in astonishment. Isn't that what the whole film has been telling us? That the NSA is spying on American Citizens.

My first reaction to this big payoff was, "The NSA is only spying on 1.2 million of the 300+ million living in America?" And that is a prime example of why this film is a huge failure: It misses every opportunity to have an impact. The big revelation is not that the NSA is only spying on 1.2 million people. The NSA is collecting information about all of us, and that is bad enough. However, the NSA is ACTIVELY SURVEILLING 1.2 million people. That's the big revelation.
44 out of 90 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Not Even Le Carré or Ludlum Could have Imagined This Unbelievably Mesmerising Thrill Ride
theSachaHall24 January 2015
Once in a while a film comes along that is so unbelievably gripping and thought provoking that you can't help but be stunned by the knowledge and changed by the experience. Add in to that, a true story whereby the events unfold in real time and with accurate precognition, and you have yourself one hell of a documentary.

Titled after the pseudonym used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, CITIZENFOUR is that story and it's all that and more. So much more.

Documented around the eight days political filmmaker Laura Poitras (MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY) spent filming Snowden's June 2013 interviews with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, CITIZENFOUR is a front row seat to the NSA's cat-and-mouse hunt for Snowden after he divulges evidence of the NSA's covert global surveillance programs in his Hong Kong hotel.

Poitras was already working on the third instalment of her post 9/11 documentaries when she was emailed anonymously in January 2013 by a whistleblower known as CitizenFour who wished to provide her with documented evidence of the NSA's secret mass data surveillance programs that circumvented citizenry civil liberties. 'You asked why I picked you? I didn't. You did', CitizenFour told Poitras.

With the NSA as an adversary, CitizenFour maintained encrypted online communication with Poitras and Greenwald (a political and legal journalist who had come on board after being contacted by both CitizenFour and Poitras around the same time), until it was safe to meet face-to-face. Although Greenwald had yet experienced the unlimited reach of the NSA, Poitras was no stranger to harassment, intimidation and privacy invasion by the US government (approximately 40 times since 2006) and documents an example of this experience in the film's opening montage sequence.

In her Cinéma vérité style, the documentary centres itself as an observer to the meetings between CitizenFour, Greenwald, and MacAskill, as they discuss how to disclose to the public the NSA's metadata collection programs and its invasion of citizens' civil liberties veiled under the guise of national security.

It is these meetings, held intimately in Snowden's Mira hotel room, that are so unbelievably mesmerising to watch that you feel as if you are an integral part of this thrillingly dangerous enterprise against a powerful enemy with infinite reach. What is also striking (and humbling to see) is how poised Edward Snowden is throughout the film. Thoughtful and articulate, he knows exactly what he has done and that his actions may not lead to any consequences or outcome for the NSA and other intelligence organisations such as the GCHQ. He willingly accepts the risks and consequences of his actions stating 'I am more willing to risk imprisonment, or any other negative outcome personally, than I am to risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom and that of those around me, whom I care for equally as I do for myself'.

His one regret, which you can't help but feel and empathise with from his words and tone, is the fact that his partner of ten years, Lindsay Mills, was completely unaware of Snowden's actions or whereabouts and that she would face government interrogation and intimidation alone when the NSA inevitably arrives (which occurs when Mills interrupts a HR representative and police officer from the NSA trying to gain access to their home).

As the first story brakes regarding the NSA's program PRISM (a court approved program that gives front door access to all users' accounts communications from Google and Yahoo) in The Guardian and The Washington Post two days after their initial meeting on 3rd June 2014, the US government immediately goes on the defensive as media outlets around the globe gain traction and mediate the revelations. From 'urging' outlets to not disclose companies involved in their programs to secret felony charges filed against Snowden on 14th June 2014 (including two under the Espionage Act of 1917) and Snowden's allusion on the 21st July 2014 that he received communications stating that the US government has told other nations to seek out people working with him and to use any pressure necessary to get to him, the US government wanted the revelations suppressed.

What is amazing about the ensuing events that occur as Snowden makes preparations for political asylum is that each event unravels just as Snowden predicted on screen, giving credence to the heroisms of his motivations and actions.

As the story comes to its temporary conclusion (Snowden's revelations are still unravelling even today) on screen, the viewer is included in a final intimate hotel room moment with Greenwald and Snowden (this time in Moscow), as Greenwald reveals in hand written notes, that another whistleblower has come forward. And they're ready to blow the lid with explosive evidence that names names all the way to the top. The President of the United States (POTUS) top.

This is a must see film absolutely worthy of your time. Not even Le Carré or Ludlum can compare to this thrill ride!
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
An exceptional film, one that makes you very angry.
lucyjones-b27 January 2015
I have to confess that before watching this film, I was only moderately aware of the Edward Snowden leaks. I also naively believed it was predominantly something that affected the USA, and that here in Britain we were safe from the evils of the NSA etc. I couldn't have been more wrong. Snowden in fact states that GCHQ is even worse, and had unlimited, unwarranted, and unregulated access to British citizens communications. Whilst it was big news here in the UK, it did not make most people as angry as it should have done. Indeed, I would be surprised if anyone who watched this film isn't livid by the end. It is also thought-provoking, well shot, and a fascinating insight into the human-side of Snowden.

This is one of the few documentaries that doesn't actually feel like a documentary. There is nothing worse than watching people talk about an event in retrospect, with a series of unbelievable footage supposed to represent the topic. This is completely the opposite. It is all shot in real-time, with Snowden, two journalists from the Guardian and Washington post, and of course the filmmaker Laura Poitras, holed up inside a hotel room in Hong Kong, with very little idea of their fate. It is extremely tense, and consequently feels like a real-life thriller.

This is probably the best documentary I've seen for years. It is the type of documentary that every single person in the affected areas (which is most of the world) should see.
10 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed