The riveting documentary “Citizenfour,” which details the emergence of Edward Snowden and documents him as he leaks private NSA information, arrives on Blu-Ray August 25. This stunningly constructed, surprisingly suspenseful film is masterfully made, playing almost as a non-fiction film more than a documentary.
Snowden’s story is known by now, as he leaked info of the government’s widespread surveillance program, both internationally and domestic. (Former intelligence officer William Binney reveals that AT&T supplied the government with 320 million records per day.) Snowden details the government’s use of drones to spy on people and countries around the world, often with the cooperation of other countries. “Citizenfour” begins the story in the months leading up to Snowden’s interview, exchanging anonymous emails with reporter Glenn Greenwald and writer-director Laura Poitras. One of the first emails Snowden sends contains this chilling message.
You ask why I picked you. I didn’t. You did. The surveillance you’ve experienced means you’ve been selected, a term which will mean more to you as you learn about how the modern SIGINT system works.
From now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, article you write, site you visit, subject line you type, and packet you route, is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. Your victimization by the NSA system means that you are well aware of the threat that unrestricted, secret abilities pose for democracies. This is a story that few but you can tell.
Snowden’s information is devastating, detailing how much the government has spied on its own citizens and targets abroad. Snowden and Greenwald also reveal that much of the information actually had very little to do with terrorism, which was the program’s supposed purpose. Instead, most of the information was financial, industrial and other info that might be damaging to other countries. (Snowden mentions at one point that he was able to view cameras on drones placed around the world directly from his computer desktop.)
What makes “Citizenfour” even more impressive, and a deserved Best Documentary Oscar-winner, is the superb editing, score (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and composition. Even though Poitras is shooting a documentary, her style is grounded in cinema, turning a story that’s already remarkable into a suspenseful, thrilling drama, especially when the US government begins monitoring Snowden’s family and pressures media around the globe to stop reporting Snowden’s information leaks.
The Blu-Ray looks terrific, and the bass in Reznor and Ross’ score is almost stomach-churning, adding another layer of suspense. “Citizenfour” is a fascinating look at living history which also expands the form.