Saturday, January 24, 2015

Citizenfour Review

I recently watched Jason Reitman's most recent work, Men, Women & Children, which seemed to be attempting a meaningful story that sold technology as scary and I laughed it off the screen. Sarcastic jokes came from these lips, telling my wife that the toaster was watching us or a colleague that the computer room would tell us what to do any day now. It wasn't the goal of such a narrative I mocked, as I am a believer that certain social aspects of life are being diminished thanks to sites like Facebook and that human intelligence is in danger of slipping thanks to a reliance on technology over learning. No, I mocked that film because the way it approached its thematic goal was unintentionally hysterical and about as well crafted as a Saturday evening Lifetime Network original feature. 

After screening the new Oscar nominated documentary Citizenfour, I think the toaster might actually be watching me.

All joking aside, I am going to get the aspects of the film that didn't work for me out of the way first, because I don't think it is fair for me to focus too much on the negatives. Why? Well, because I am not sure it is even fair to classify them as negatives. See, my problem with Citizenfour is that I didn't actually learn anything watching it, as I have followed the story of Edward Snowden closely enough that I knew most of what was unveiled, and I didn't learn anything about him personally either perhaps because I anticipated his personality to be, well, exactly what it is. I already knew about his journalistic relationship with Glenn Greenwald and the complicated implications this has had on Greenwald himself, a man simply doing his job and yet he was afraid of returning to American soil because of his first hand knowledge of Snowden (although he also cites marriage inequality as a reason for living in Brazil, and what it may actually have something to do with is unpaid taxes here in the United States). 

I think the only thing I learned while watching Citizenfour is the fact that they were making this documentary all along, filming these secretive private moments as Snowden was in hiding. I had no idea this type of film would ever exist, so that in itself was eye opening. The content, however, didn't feel very revealing and thus I had a difficult time being "entertained" by what was happening, although I am not sure that word is very appropriate anyways. The goal of a work like this isn't to entertain, it is to pull back the curtain and let us in on something that feels exciting in its illegality and unique in its importance, and without a doubt in that sense Citizenfour works in every conceivable way. 

Hence why I asked if my issues can really be considered negatives. I only encountered these bumps along the way because I had already done so much reading on the Snowden situation, but to a person who had remained mostly in the dark this whole time I imagine a film like this would be almost terrifying and unnerving, to learn what the most powerful government on the planet not only was capable of doing, but in fact they are still doing it right now: listening to our calls, reading our emails, and following where we go and who we are with while we are going. In a post 9/11 world where almost everything can be labeled as an anti-terrorism measure, privacy simply does not exist. 

Citizenfour is the result of bold and brave filmmaking by Laura Poitras as she was willing to put her own entire situation in jeopardy in order to document the Edward Snowden saga in real time. While not my favorite or even second favorite documentary of 2014, if they do happen to announce this as the Oscar winner on February 22nd I won't be disappointed by the decision. It is important to keep a film like this on the radar for as long as possible, as anyone who didn't appreciate the depth and big picture meaning of what Snowden was unveiling to the world should see Citizenfour and try to understand what it all really means. No, the government is likely not literally reading your emails as I am sure they have better things to do with their time, especially if you lead as boring of a life as I do, but the point is they CAN, even if you have done nothing wrong. If that isn't unsettling, I don't know what is.

While American Sniper dominates the box office and the debate over whether Chris Kyle was an American hero or just a pretty shitty human being rages on, a much better film that invokes a very similar debate will fly under the radar and be mostly ignored by the public. Not only a better film, a more important one as well, as the wealth of knowledge Snowden has about the scary modern reality of our lack of privacy is far more powerful than the capabilities of a man holding a gun. Find a way to see Citizenfour as soon as you can.



  1. Can't wait to see this movie. While I've kept up with some of the story I don't know all of it so the movie will definitely open my eyes to some new points. Great review.

    1. That's the best way to enter the experience, to know the general idea of it but not the whole thing. Literally the only complaint I can come up with is that I knew too much going in, so it's safe to say it's a hell of a film.

      Thanks for the thoughts and the kind words, appreciate you reading.

  2. Can't wait to see this movie. While I've kept up with some of the story I don't know all of it so the movie will definitely open my eyes to some new points. Great review.