Does the story of Edward Snowden not scream political thriller?
The 29-year-old analyst disappeared from his Hong Kong hotel room a day after his identity was revealed as the person responsible for leaking secrets about U.S. government surveillance programs.
In his 12-minute video interview with the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, Snowden said the CIA could grab him at any moment or pay off a Chinese triad to kill him.
It’s the perfect plot: An average employee defies laws in order to give the public the chance to react against alleged government actions, all while putting his own life at risk.
We've seen this story line before at the movies. Wherever Snowden is holed up, he may look to these political thrillers for inspiration or an unsettling look at his possible future.
"All the President’s Men" (1976). Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman starred as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Their source: Deep Throat. Unlike Snowden, the real-life Deep Throat, former Associate FBI Director Mark Felt, didn't come forward until more than 30 years after the leak, in 2005. The movie is a fast-paced, Academy Award-winning classic.
“Silkwood” (1983). Karen Silkwood reached out to a journalist to help expose evidence of alleged wrongdoing when she suspected that her fellow plutonium plant workers were being contaminated with radiation. But the labor union activist died before she could meet with a New York Times journalist. The film earned five Academy Award nominations: for star Meryl Streep, director Mike Nichols, supporting actress Cher, film editor Sam O'Steen and screenplay writers Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen.
“Enemy of the State” (1998). A congressional debate over the expansion of National Security Agency surveillance powers is one of the plot points Snowden might recognize in this suspense thriller. Will Smith plays a lawyer framed for a murder committed by a corrupt NSA official (Jon Voight), who doesn't know he was caught in the act on camera. This was before the era of surveillance cameras everywhere and PRISM flow charts.
“The Insider” (1999). Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, "The Insider" is based on the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), the whistle-blower on big tobacco who came to national prominence on "60 Minutes." Unlike Snowden, Wigand did not seek out the media. News producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) talked him into revealing incriminatory tobacco industry practices. CBS, under pressure from Brown & Williamson lawyers, edited out some of the segment's most highly charged material and didn't air the full report until newspapers had published stories that supported Wigand and his claims.
“Rendition” (2007). Snowden's two least-favorite words right now are probably "extraordinary rendition," but it's the reason he'll relate to this movie. It's about the controversial CIA practice of relocating terror-related suspects to countries that employ torture. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is traveling home to Chicago from South Africa when he's detained for his alleged involvement in a suicide bombing that killed an American envoy. Doug Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a CIA analyst assigned to the case; he begins to question the agency's cruel interrogation methods while El-Ibrahimi’s wife (Reese Witherspoon) begins a desperate search for her Egyptian-born husband.
"The Constant Gardener" (2005). Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a British diplomat in Kenya trying to uncover the details behind wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) murder. What he discovers is more than he could have imagined, with puzzle pieces involving his wife’s investigative work into a fraudulent drug corporation, lethal drug testing and links to the British government. Though the premise may be one of uncovering corporate and political corruption, through flashbacks of their life together, the resounding message and the film’s slogan is: “Love. At any cost.”
"The Whistleblower" (2011). Again, we see Weisz fighting powerful systems in this lesser-known film based on real events. Kathryn Bolkovac (Weisz) is an American police officer who takes a job in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina as a peacekeeper. She discovers a human trafficking ring that, due to the involvement of international personnel, has been covered up. In trying to expose it, she realizes the risk she’s taking with her own life. As Snowden did, Bolkovac turned to the British media, in her case, the BBC. The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn.
"The Informant!" (2009). A whistle-blower movie with a twist, this is a much needed comedic break from the typical political conspiracy thriller. Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, an employee turned snitch who turns the tables on his company’s price-fixing conspiracy by working as an undercover agent. The satirical comedy, based on true events, can largely be summed up in one of the movie’s quotes: “Everyone in this country is a victim of corporate crime by the time they finish breakfast.” Damon’s transformation is unforgettable between the mustaches, the glasses and lack of smarts; it’s a 180-degree turn from Jason Bourne.
“Michael Clayton” (2007). Law firm fixer Michael Clayton (George Clooney) must not only fix his own life but also the mess left when colleague Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) discovers evidence against an agribusiness company tied up with the firm. Clooney's character discovers that doing the noble thing can have explosive consequences. Tilda Swinton plays the company’s dangerous general counsel.
"House of Cards" (2013). OK, this isn't a movie, but it’s about as fresh as you’re going to get. The 2013 series, available only on Netflix, stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a high-ranking Democratic congressman who takes revenge on Washington when the president passes him over for a promised secretary of State nomination. With the tacit consent of his wife (Robin Wright), Underwood uses Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a reporter at Washington Post stand-in the Washington Herald (and later, Slugline, a more gossipy Politico), to shape the news. The tables start to turn when the journalist begins investigating her source.
"Enlightened" (2011-2013). It's another TV pick, but you can't blame us for including Mike White's canceled but critically acclaimed HBO series. After all, the series' star, Laura Dern, not only seeks enlightenment through whistle-blowing but she also brings down a corrupt CEO with the help of a handsome investigative reporter (Dermot Mulroney) from the Los Angeles Times.