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Laura Poitras
Edward Snowden

A documentarian and a reporter travel to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with Edward Snowden.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$31,147 on 40 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 8/25/2015

• Deleted Scenes
New York Times Interviews
• Film Society of Lincoln Center Q&A
•: “The Program” Op-Doc
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Citizenfour [Blu-Ray] (2014)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 18, 2015)

Few recent public figures seem as controversial as Edward Snowden. Depending on whom you ask, the whistleblower is viewed as a patriot, a traitor, or both.

For a closer look at this polarizing figure, we go to 2014’s Oscar-winning Citizenfour. In the documentary, we trace the emergence of Snowden’s story. Starting in late 2012, an anonymous source reached out to reporter Glenn Greenwald, and then not much later, documentarian Laura Poitras got encrypted e-mails from the same contact.

Poitras and Greenwald travelled to Hong Kong, where they met with Snowden, an employee of a defense contractor who did work with the NSA. Later joined by other journalists, Snowden discusses all the ways that US authorities tap/track the communication among citizens. The film lets Snowden reveal what he knows and also tracks reactions to the public release of this information.

From the minute Citizenfour starts, it becomes clear that Poitras won’t approach the subject from a neutral stance. A text preface tells us about her own negative experiences with the government as well as the film’s place as the third in a post-9/11 trilogy. The obviousness of Poitras’s leanings made me fear that Citizenfour would offer nothing more than a highly biased piece of propaganda ala Merchants of Doubt.

On the positive side, this doesn’t really occur. Granted, virtually all of the material represents one point of view, so you won’t hear much dissension/defense of the NSA’s methods. Nonetheless, Citizenfour doesn’t batter us over the head with its political beliefs, so that comes as a relief.

Unfortunately, Citizenfour fails to become an especially interesting look at the subject matter. It starts fairly well, as we get a good amount of background about governmental overreach and the ways these authorities step into the lives of average citizens. These moments hint at a frightening abuse of civil liberties.

And then we go to Hong Kong and formally meet Snowden. Ironically, he claims that he doesn’t want to be the focal point of the story – he hopes that the information he reveals will stay at the core.

That doesn’t happen in Citizenfour, as it tends to obsess over its lead subject. Would it be hyperbole to state that the movie indulges in hero worship? Maybe, maybe not – the film sure does devote a lot of time to efforts to make Snowden look like a hero and a martyr, and the other side gets virtually no screentime.

Actually, Snowden’s work/information doesn’t show up all the often either, as Citizenfour often just focuses on his situation. When we visit him in his hotel, we see him hanging out, typing on the keyboard and grooming himself. When he speaks to the journalists, they tend to discuss tangential areas and not Snowden’s actual revelations.

Perhaps Poitras feels the viewer will already know all that information, and maybe she’s right. Nonetheless, Citizenfour comes across as ambling and pointless, as it never goes anywhere. Without an attempt to get to the heart of the issues Snowden dug into, we’re left with a vague investigation of his personal situation and attempts to keep him free.

Sorry, but these don’t prove to be especially interesting. Perhaps they should, as Snowden seeks asylum in a variety of spots, but instead, we simply get more self-serving attempts to make Snowden look like a hero.

Which he may be – as I mentioned at the start, opinions of Snowden’s actions vary radically. Whether we see him as a patriot or a pariah doesn’t really matter in the progress of the film.

What does matter – to me, at least – is my feeling that the end product remains awfully boring. Citizenfour wants to let us get to know Snowden and his situation, but instead, we just watch him type on a keyboard and put gel in his hair. What could – and should – have been a fascinating documentary ends up as a long, slow piece of character aggrandizement.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Citizenfour appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This felt like an accurate representation of the source but it remained a somewhat bland visual experience.

While it mixed in some other sources, much of the film concentrated on footage of Snowden shot in a hotel room. Because these used source lighting, they tended to be a bit on the soft side. Parts of the movie showed nice delineation but other sequences seemed a little tentative.

No issues with shimmering or jagged edges occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws were absent as well.

Colors tended to be bland, again due to the setting. Snowden’s hotel room lacked vivid hues, so neutral tones dominated, and they seemed acceptable. The tones looked better when allowed to do so. Blacks were also a little inky, while shadows appeared decent, though they could be on the limp side. This was never a great-looking film, but it seemed fine for the project.

Similar thoughts greeted the restrained DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Citizenfour. As a chatty documentary, I didn’t expect much from the mix, and it stayed within the anticipated boundaries. The soundscape concentrated on dialogue most of the time. Some effects popped up, but they were minor, and music was an infrequent factor. This meant a track highly focused on the front center and speech.

Audio quality was adequate. Some dialogue could be a little rough due to source issues, but most speech seemed concise and easily intelligible. Effects were also limited by their origins, but those elements came across as reasonably accurate. Music showed fair reproduction in the rare moments it appeared. Nothing here impressed, but it didn’t need to do so to serve the film.

As we shift to extras, we get three Deleted Scenes. These include “Methods Can’t Be Questioned” (7:49), “The Strength of Your Beliefs” (2:37) and “A Scandal Is What It Is” (3:29). The first two offer interviews with Snowden about the NSA’s actions, while “Scandal” shows more of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s work. The first two are fairly informative, but “Scandal” seems less appealing.

Next comes a one-hour, two-second New York Times interview with director Laura Poitras, reporter Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and columnist/moderator David Carr. Poitras, Snowden and Greenwald talk about their experiences and expand on elements seen in the film. This never becomes an especially dynamic session, but it adds some useful information.

After this we find a Film Society of Lincoln Center Q&A with Poitras and moderator Dennis Lim. It runs 28 minutes, 22 seconds and looks at the construction of the film and related areas. Since the prior piece focuses on the events depicted in the film, I like this one’s greater concentration on the nuts and bolts of its creation. That makes it a good complement.

Called an “op-doc”, The Program goes for eight minutes, 36 seconds and offers more work from Poitras. “Program” chats with NSA whistleblower William Binney. He discusses various NSA programs that spy on citizens. Binney pops up occasionally during Citizenfour and is probably more interesting than Snowden.

The disc opens with ads for The Hunting Ground, The Unknown Known and The Great Invisible. No trailer for Citizenfour appears here.

If you want insights into governmental abuses or Edward Snowden, look somewhere other than Citizenfour. Despite occasional moments of intrigue, the movie seems more like a sluggish attempt to boost Snowden’s hero credentials than anything else. The Blu-ray provides acceptable picture and audio along with a decent set of bonus materials. Citizenfour becomes a dull disappointment

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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