• Citizenfour

    Released By: Starz/Anchor Bay
    Released On: August 25, 2015
    Director: Laura Poitras
    Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen Macaskill
    Year: 2014
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    If you've kept even the most casual eye on the news in recent times, you're more than likely acquainted with the name Edward Snowden. Formerly contracted by the NSA to do some top-secret work in the area of data interception, Snowden became identified as both a hero and a traitor following his work with international news media in which he leaked confidential material that showed how far the US government was willing to go to spy on its citizens. Following the publication of several other high-level sensitive documents, Snowden fled to Russia, where he lives today in an undisclosed location.

    While a full-length film featuring Snowden's talking head sounds like it would be a chore to watch, filmmaker Laura Poitras breaks the interview segments up nicely in creative ways that hammer the film's key points home effectively. Starting with screenshot sequences of live messenger communications, she documents her initial contact with Snowden (Citizenfour), who approached her because of her critique of the US government through her films. Explaining that she is already on a "watch list", Snowden and Poitras slowly build a trusting relationship that culminates in a meeting in a Hong Kong hotel.

    Talking extensively about his employment with the NSA, Snowden reveals his motive for coming forward with the information that would label him as a traitor; his horror and self-disgust at the work he was doing to intercept data from everyday citizens, allowing the government to archive phone conversations, texts, emails, and metadata that tracks location and financial transactions of anyone they wanted, whether they were suspected of crimes or not; all in the name of the Patriot Act. After bringing journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen Macaskill on board, Snowden reveals court orders served to major telecommunications providers requiring them to surrender all data, juxtaposed with clips of NSA spokesmen denying that such court orders exist.

    While Snowden's interview scenes are very compelling, Poitras further breaks them up by cutting to CNN newsflashes breaking the story of the leaked documents in the news media, clips of various other international governments responding to the fact that the US Government can listen into any of their conversations as well, spinning business advantages in their favour, the arrival of other news outlets in Hong Kong, and the swift crackdown from the US government as they attempt to exert their authority on Snowden's girlfriend and the Hong Kong government, charging Snowden with felonies under the archaic Espionage Act, forcing his exile to Moscow. Patriot or traitor, it's up to the viewer to decide, but as President Obama appears onscreen, insisting that the documents should have been dealt with in a court of law...an absolutely ridiculous idea...Citizenfour makes it quite clear that were it not for Snowden's actions, this invasion of privacy would no doubt have continued uncontested.

    Poitras keeps the film moving at a fast clip, jamming it full of information, relevant cut scenes, and the occasional dose of wry humour, but at the end of it, Citizenfour is a horror film, lending credence to the various conspiracy theorists in the form of cold hard fact; Big Brother IS Watching.


    Citizenfour comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 transfer that looks decent, keeping in mind that it's a mix of source materials. The star of the show, Snowden himself, is filmed in a hotel room...probably not the most optimal location for shooting... but the focus is sharp and there are no issues to be found. Some of the various pieces of footage that Poitras uses from news media outlets comes off a little worse, but again, to no real distraction.

    The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is more than sufficient, being that the film's soundtrack is primarily made up of dialogue. Speech is nicely leveled with no spikes or compression issues, and the occasional music cue balances well within the confines of the track.

    A number of extras are also included, first up in the form of three Deleted Scenes (13:55), which gets you a lot more of Snowden.

    New York Times talks with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden (appearing live via videoconferencing) and David Carr (1:00:02) contains a whole load of information on the film, the events leading up to it, and and the relationships between the participants, and is a worthy watch for anyone who finds the film to be interesting.

    Film Society of Lincoln Center Q+A with Laura Poitras and Dennis Lim (28:22) further discusses Poitras' career and Citizenfour, though some of the information does overlap with the previous feature.

    Finally, The Program - A New York Times Op-Doc by Laura Poitras (8:36) focuses on NSA employee and later whistle-blower William Binney and his take on how the technology he developed to spy on the Russians was turned against US citizens in the wake of 9/11.

    The Final Word:

    Compelling, fascinating, and frightening, Laura Poitras' Citizenfour is a film that everyone interested in basic freedoms and human rights should see.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!