Apr 12, 2015

Bond Producers, Oliver Stone Behind Rival Edward Snowden Movies

Last year's powerful, Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour chronicled the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the ramifications of his revelations about domestic spying in the United States. It's a fascinating film, and together with the Frontline report "United States of Secrets" actually managed to change my opinion of Snowden. But audiences don't turn out in droves for documentaries, so most moviegoers will have to wait for the feature version to form an opinion. Make that feature versions. There are two rival Snowden movies in various states of production/development, and one of them comes from the most famous producing team in all of spydom.

It's extremely rare that James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson tackle anything other than 007. (Broccoli produced the HBO movie Crime of the Century back in 1996, and the pair were attached to produce the spy movie Remote Control back in 2009, but that project never materialized.) But last year Deadline reported that they're doing just that, and in stark contrast with the fantasy spy world of James Bond, they're planning to tell one of the most famous real-life espionage stories of our age. According to the trade, Sony acquired Glenn Greenwald‘s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State for Broccoli and Wilson to produce. The book narrates Greenwald's work with Snowden to expose the NSA's domestic spying operations in The Guardian. "No Place To Hide is a terrifying personal account of one of the most relevant political events of our time," Wilson and Broccoli said in a statement. "We are thrilled to be working with Glenn to bring this important story to the screen." But they won't be the first people to deliver a movie about these events.

Broccoli and Wilson are not alone in their passion for the Snowden story. Oliver Stone has them beaten to the punch with a Snowden project of his own for Open Road Films and Endgame Entertainment, which is already filming in Munich and on schedule to be released this year. Stone's Snowden stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the controversial whistleblower. Stone's movie is based on another Guardian journalist's book, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man, by Luke Harding, and a novel by Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, called Time of the Octopus. (That should be the title of the movie!) Harding and other Guardian journalists and staffers will serve as consultants. "This is one of the greatest stories of our time," Stone said in a statement published on Deadline last year. "A real challenge. I’m glad to have The Guardian working with us."

Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard) stars opposite Gordon-Levitt as Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Timothy Olyphant (Hitman) plays a CIA agent; Clint's son Scott Eastwood (Fury) plays an NSA agent, and Nicholas Cage plays a what Deadline describes as "a former U.S. Intelligence official." Anyone who's seen Citizenfour or "United States of Secrets" can probably guess that this character is likely based on NSA whistleblower William Binney, who plays a crucial role in the story. Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47) plays Glenn Greenwald (good casting!), Melissa Leo (The Equalizer) plays Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Tom Wilkinson (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) plays Guardian defense and intelligence correspondent Ewen MacAskill. Joely Richardson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Rhys Ifans (Elementary) round out the impressive cast. A few weeks ago, Deadline revealed the first photos of Gordon-Levitt as Snowden (above).

Snowden is currently slated to open Christmas Day. It will be interesting to see if Stone's film clicks with audiences like All the President's Men or flounders in its proximity to the events it's portraying like Bill Condon's 2013 Julian Assange movie The Fifth Estate and fails to find viewers. If it's a hit, will Broccoli and Wilson still proceed with their Snowden movie? Presumably they won't be turning their full attention to it until after SPECTRE comes out, and it's possible that more time passing from Snowden's exposure of classified material and subsequent flight to Russia will give them the perspective necessary to make a better film. It's a complex news story, and there is certainly room for multiple films with multiple perspectives on the issues and events surrounding the divisive Snowden. Personally, I hope both movies become a reality. I'd really like to see Broccoli and Wilson's take on real world espionage.

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