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Edward Snowden the Movie?

What problems might Hollywood encounter making a biopic that Americans would pay money to see?

by
James Jay Carafano

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January 27, 2014 - 3:00 pm
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How long till Hollywood hammers out the story of the NSA leaker on the silver screen? Last year the buzz started on several projects, with at least one film slated to come out in the autumn. But what kind of movies will we get? And, will anyone want to see them?

Hollywood’s first problem is this doesn’t seem to be the movie the movie-going public is anticipating. “For all the attention generated by the controversy over Edward Snowden’s disclosures of U.S. spying operations,” The Los Angles Times recently reported, “much of the public has paid little attention to the details of the policy debate over government surveillance, polls have shown.”

For sure it would be a big mistake to open the film opposite the third installment of the Hunger Games franchise.

The second problem for the screenwriters is crafting a film that even those who closely follow the issue will want to sit through. After all stories like this don’t pact much drama. The 2010 film The Social Network (about the founding of Facebook) might have suckered Tinsel Town into thinking it could crank out “geek” hits one after the other. But an almost identical movie, Jobs (2013), sputtered at the box office. Even more worrisome for those anxious to bring Snowden to the big screen is the fate of The Fifth Estate (2013), the biopic of Wikileaks founder Jullian Assange.  In many ways a Snowden movie would be the same story–individual leaks US government secrets and lives with the consequences. After the release of the Assange film Bloomberg reported, “[f]inally, we can put a price of a sort on leaking state secrets: $1.7 million. That was the breathtakingly dismal box-office tally this past weekend for The Fifth Estate….”

To make Snowden succeed on the screen, the filmmakers will have to deliver drama. Both The Fifth Estate and Jobs had strong acting and decent scripts–but they lacked a compelling reason for most movie-goers to fill seats–a gripping narrative that most of us cared about.

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