Making a Movie: The Death of History (Based on a True Story)

It's nearly Twenty-goddamn- eighteen. How the fuck is this shit still happening and why the shit are we still making shitty historical movies?

Last night, I watched Snowden. It was a movie I wanted to see, but I didn't at the time cause, fuck paying $10 for a movie (I did see my semi-biopic in theaters, though AFTER i saw it at SXSW last March... go check it out). The story obviously being a contemporary 1 since the film came out 3 years after the Snowden leak. The result was extremely controversial and raised so many questions and had very few answers. Easily something that could be made into a film, and a damn good 1, whether or not you agree with what transpired (which I would like to comment on in the abstract, but that's a discussion for another day)

Making a movie: The Death of History (Based on a True Story)

Disclaimer: I'm using this movie as an example, rather than me just shitting on the movie, itself.

Will this take come off as preachy and pretentious? Probably, but I'll own up to it. Does it mean I can direct? Fuck no. Was this even be writing by me? Absolutely not; especially since I wish I'll probably focus on the review than the abstract, but the movie should've been better to avoid getting used. it is what it is. Enjoy :P

The film is directed by Oliver Stone. You might recognize his films such as Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991), Nixon (1995), W. (2008), and more. Obviously, based on the titles alone, he's had experience making films about controversial topics in modern history, biopics, and the 1st being an anti-war film, which draw parallels to his own life as a Vietnam vet. Most, if not all, were met with praise. Much of his themes became about anti-establishment, questioning government... you get the idea. So given his success in past films and the subject matter of Snowden, you should have a marriage made in heaven

The story, you guessed it, centers around Snowden (Joseph Gorden-Levitt). The film starts off in a hotel in Hong Kong where he is meeting with a documentarian, Lauren Poitras (Melissa Leo), and journalist, Glenn Greenwood (Zachery Quinto). They are talking about the information Snowden took and how they plan on releasing information obtained from the NSA to the public. From there, the story is told through flashbacks starting with Snowden going through basic training for the US Army. But like almost every other war movie, you come across the everyman trope. To his credit, it had to do with him breaking his leg from stress than him just being a dweeb unfit for a job, and there's only so much you can do with that, but it still make it feel tropy. So, after being discharged, he does what anyone would do and apply for the CIA.

From this point on, I'm going to sprinkle scenes in my points rather than do a review to make this easier. The reason being, from that point on, the movie just goes downhill... and it's not because Nicholas Cage is in it as... Nicholas Cage. It's not even the cinematography or the acting. For the most part, I found it fairly solid all around, at least for what was given. The pacing, while many thought was slow (and was at times) didn't bother me that much. What got me early was how archaic and, again, trope-like everything was. We go to our 2nd flashback of him applying to the CIA. We see early on, through a series of interviews and tests, that the dude is extremely bright, extremely patriotic (almost to a fault) and fairly cocky. To almost no surprise, he ends up passing. We get a scene with Nick Cage about enigmas and cryptography and leave to go to the CIA temp training scene in a class taught by Corbin O'Brien (Ryhs Ifans), the Deputy Director. He is given an aptitude test that averages about 5 hours to complete to do some techie shit that involves way too much data. And like in Imitation Game, for example, he takes the 5 hour test and finishes it in a measly 38 minutes, obviously completely correct

This was my 1st gripe, but something I could suspend disbelief for and get over it. What I didn't realize was that it was just the 1st and precursor to how stupidly made the film would ultimately become. So, after the movie establishes the person's relative beginnings, it kinda smartly, yet poorly executes how Snowden goes from happy-go-lucky patriot to cynical whistleblower through the semi-shoehorned girlfriend, Linsday Mills (Shailene Woodley). They use obvious cues and uses her as basically the catalyst as a liberal person who tells him that we should question the government. Instead of seeing the character become more cynical, about 15-20 minutes into the movie, we're used with obvious foreshadowing that serves more as a confirmation bias (combined with some shit that goes down that he sees and is exposed to) than him actually developing thoughts that make him rethink his own reality.

This, in turn, goes to the most extreme as we see things more as black and white. For instance, 1 of the shit he sees is when he is assigned to Geneva. When he fucks up for doing his job and get in trouble because... bureaucracy(?), he is assigned to CD scrubbing duties. Then in comes an agent named Gabriel Sol (Ben Schnetzer), who works in surveillance. For whatever reason, the scrubbing and surveillance are right next to each other and no one is there and there are no cameras around whatsoever. We, then, see Sol lackadaisically show Ed how the surveillance system works by showing him that he just looks up random people online. Then looks up Marwan Al-Kirmani (Bhasker Patel) and basically stalks his family. Gabriel causally looks at his sister-in-law, through web camera, taking off her hijab and taking off her clothes. After, he Facebook stalks the Marwan's 15 year old daughter by looking up her boyfriend and showing how the dude is banging other chicks and is in an illegal immigrant.

This was probably the 2nd time I felt like they hammed in a scene, but I was able to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the movie; even despite the fact that, later on, we see Al-Kirmani, who we met in an earlier scene at a dinner was at least an acquaintance of Snowden. They were celebrating an agent friend who Snowden worked with, who was getting a promotion. We come to find out, shortly after the surveillance scene, that his daughter kills herself after the boyfriend got deported, and after getting him tanked to drink his sorrows away, the agent will get him arrested for drunk driving and try to get him out so the government to leverage deals with him... again, even after that, I was able to get past that...

As we move farther along in the movie, the movie focuses more and more on the present and how, if, and when, Snowden, Glennwood, and Poitras should (along with a new tagalong journalist, Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson)), and can release the information to various news media... and this is where the movie finally takes its hit. After the shit in Geneva, some more shit happens to the point where O'Brien wants him to move to Oahu for counterattacking Chinese hackers. Reluctantly, he goes and an already paranoid Snowden is put over the edge when he watches drone strikes live that are based on cellphone tracking on terrorists. Afterward, it goes straight up Big Brother in a scene with O'Brien on a window screen video thing. O'Brien gets pissed at him for doing something he shouldn't have earlier in Geneva and goes full "The Police" in regards to his girlfriend. As a result, Snowden becomes fully woke and decides to take information out of the computer through a microchip and hide it in a Rubik's Cube in arguably the least suspenseful suspense sequence in cinematic history to get past security. He sets up a meeting to meet with the 3 aforementioned that just basically shows a plane going to Hong Kong (no suspense getting past security, despite knowing that the government was looking for him during the beginning to this point; a 3 day span) and we're finally caught up in real time. They get the information released to news outlets across the world, and voilà!

As sloppy as that part was, it wasn't as bad as the 3rd act. We ultimately get a movie praising Snowden for what he did. For note, I don't agree with what he did, but I wouldn't have liked it if they made him to an overt traitor (although, it would be interesting because I think antagonists... or at least antihero's are more interesting).

To harken back to the very 1st sentence of this take, it's a movie based on a 2013 event. Unlike any period piece set in the 1700s or 1800s, we have technology today that can document events as they happened. We have the event fresh in our minds. We don't know the cultural impact that it's had from a historical standpoint. Yet, the movie blatantly glosses over real events and makes it into a movie of black/white, good guy/bad guy narrative when just as many thought he did right thought he did wrong. They do a 5 minute montage of people around the world thinking he's a hero, a dude in a Guy Faux mask, the US government saying how bad he is and like, 1 single shot out of like 15 rally groups saying he's bad. More so, glosses over the consequences and ignores any of the nuances or facts that made it so controversial. Again, I'm not saying we should demonize him. I just think that a movie with the easiest source material, and the reason the event was so controversial was because it wasn't straight forward, still chooses to ignore some of the facts, the nuances, and events that made it worthy of being discussed in the 1st place

Making a Movie: The Death of History (Based on a True Story)

And I think that this speaks to something greater, hence the title. The assassination of history in movies. Yes, I understand that movies are made to entertain and certain things should be able to cinematically be changed to make the story more compelling, plausible, and because companies buy rights to tell these stories with creative liberties. But besides character assassination that can lead to problems and lawsuits, I find it generally disingenuous to change a real event completely. This doesn't just have to do with "preserving history", but I think if a director wants to tell the story of an event, especially ones as interesting as Ed Snowden's, or in movies like Hacksaw Ridge, Straight Outta Compton, Moneyball, Imitation Game, Lion, Argo, The Disaster Artist, and more, tell them. They're certainly compelling enough.

If they want to make a movie based on real events, but want to change 50% of what happened or make take an overly blatant side, then just make an original movie. As stupid as it was, I kinda enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter... At least that knew what it was. Instead, we get this movie botching shit and trying to pass it off as a matter of fact and destroy any sense of nuance that made it interesting to begin with. It's the reason why shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, Black Mirror, and other movies (I can't think any) are so good. While there's protagonists and antagonists, what makes good characters and stories are that, while there's right or wrong, the audience get to see why the character thinks that way, that the characters are flawed all around, and it lets the audience think about what they're watching.

Making a Movie: The Death of History (Based on a True Story)

Again, while I disagree with what he did for a few reasons, I do agree with parts his reasoning and can see a legit justification for what he did. Going back to the parentheses in the 2nd paragraph, there's a lot of contradictory things in our society, and could easily be explored in this. They could make a better case how the government is trying to stop terrorism. Instead, we get a scene where he has to go through NSA security and the video image shows an overly detailed 3d image of him and his junk... WE GET IT.

Despite me shitting on it, I actually give it a 6.5/10 and thought it had redeeming qualities (at least for the 1st 2/3). Like I said, the acting was good (even you, Nicholas Cage), although I felt Levitt was a bit too good for the role. Although a lot of user reviews on youtube and IMDB praising the film (I know why, but you'd think based on them alone, it'd be a top 10 film of all time), it still flopped. Partially because of the unnecessary R rating, it was apparent why it didn't really succeed. But the overall preachiness and sloppy writing couldn't save it. Like, their escape from the hotel was them driving in a car and maybe 2 cars following him. Then him hiding in a random house and sleeping for 5 minutes. And what you'd think would be the most exciting thing would be getting out of China and trying to escape US extradition... but fuck that. It's just a 3 minutes of just airplanes in a montage. I wasn't disappointed and generally don't get disappointed in movies like this because they're inaccurate and bad, but because you can easily see how they could be great films with semi-competent directing and pacing, if not great films.

Anywell, not much for a conclusion, but whatever. For anyone who got through this long rant (partially for discussion, partially for the sake of ranting), congrats for reading that mess of an essay :D. Tell me what y'all think and cheers


Most Helpful Girl

  • I'm sorry lol. This Take is wayy too ironic. Especially coming from a guy who calls himself Tommy Wiseau.


Most Helpful Guy

  • Interesting take. There was a project made in 2016, (i am not sure if it is still around), called “Based On a True Story?”. How liberal did the filmmakers get with the truth? Created by data scientist David McCandless, with assistance from Stephanie Smith, BOTS not only assigns a percentage to the level of foofaraw in each of the 10 selected films, it also offers a scene-by-scene breakdown that explains what was made up and why.
    An early scene in Spotlight, for instance, includes an awkward dinner between uneasy new editorial colleagues played by Michael Keaton and Liev Schrieber. In reality, Schrieber’s character, a fresh Bostonian transplant, was apparently welcomed by the team without any tension.

    • So what was the conclusion? Also, I’d like to know how or if the study could differentiate between difference for storytelling purposes vs logistical purposes. For example, the blindside had a lot changed from the actual story that didn’t need to be changed, but nerdwriter, on YouTube, broke down why things had to be changed in the movie, arrival, vs the story, story of your life.

    • As far as I am aware of it, the study only looked at how true to real life the film was to the actual event.
      Spotlight which boasts a 78.9% true score, a character warns Keaton off of the big story his team is chasing, about abuses in the Catholic church, and this character is actually a fabricated amalgam of several people involved in the cover-up.
      “Based On a True Story?” operates on three different settings: Flexible – C’Mon, It’s Movies; Can Bear Some Dramatic License; and Only The Absolute Truth. The percentage of trueness goes down the more strict it gets, but also the reasons why become more negligible. Spotlight’s score falls from a 78.9% to 64.8%, after all, but only for reasons like uncertainty of whether there actual were cake and speeches at one Boston Globe editor’s sendoff depicted in an early scene.
      Have a look for yourself to find out why The Imitation Game gets only a 16.6% on the most truth-bound setting.

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What Girls Said 0

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What Guys Said 4

  • I think all it shows is that real life is never as fun or overblown as it is in movies. If it was intended to be a accurate and faithful portrayal then it would be a documentary or a docudrama at best.

    That being said... Dunkirk has shown you can make good cinema with a fairly high degree of historical accuracy. So I dono, maybe the American audience? It’s well known across the pond that the audience likes a hero to get behind.

    • That's a pretty good point about it being a documentary. I don't think it has to be 100% accurate, but I do think it should be fairly accurate and depict why the situation or person was interesting to make a story and properly show the context, especially when the situation was so recent and literally all of us over the age of 3 (when it was made) were there...

      That's somewhat true about it being an American thing. But many have gone away from it cause that shit has been hammed to death. I haven't seen Dunkirk, but that's my point, it can be done great, like you said and some of the movies I pointed out, too. That's what baffles me. It also flopped, like I said. Mostly cause it was mediocre and sloppy, but partially cause of it being rated R, which was stupid given it had a sex scene that didn't show or have to do with absolutely anything and like 3 F-bombs in 2 hours (PG-13, a lower rating, is allowed 1)

  • Oliver Stone seems to make movies as propaganda for his political views rather than as an attempt to accurately portray history. Of course, every account of history contains some inherent bias, but there is nothing subtle at all about the political message in his movies. It seems that he is so convinced of the correctness of his message that it justifies the distortion of facts necessary to convey the message. I have no respect for him and would never go to see any movie that bears his name in the credits.

    • I definitely meant to focus on the overall picture (no pun intended) of movies that do this, but that's fair. There's a further interesting dynamic of layers I'd like to go into, but this was a movie piece, not a political statement, per se. It just so happened I was watching Snowden. I was going to post a video of movies based on true events that people who the movie was based on got panned. Like sully, the dude who landed the plain in the Hudson absolutely trashed the movie. Or the dude who got kidnapped got $15 mil in a defamation suit for how he was portrayed in Pain & Gain.

  • I don't think I've ever seen an Oliver stone film tbh

    • He was good for his time because it was somewhat revolutionary, but it's like m knight (but better quality) where he ends doing the same style over and over again and you hear it 1 too many times, although the wall street movies hold up well.

  • The movie was utterly boring. If you want a movie similar that is actually good, watch The Wizard of Lies, with Robert DeNiro about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.


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