REVIEW: Citizenfour

24 11 2014

Citizenfour“I love my country but fear my government” is the kind of trite maxim that mostly belongs on bumper stickers, yet it ought to express the reaction of any sane American to watching Laura Poitras’ exceptional documentary “Citizenfour.”  In her able balancing of both the conveyance of dense, important information with the telling of a personal, human narrative, she exemplifies all the best that cinema can offer as a platform for journalism.

“Citizenfour” does not merely provide an ex post facto documentation of the events; its production is deeply embedded in the unfolding of the events themselves.  Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, her print media colleague, were the first points of contact for the mysterious Citizenfour.  This mysterious whistleblower reached out to them in early 2013 through sporadic, encrypted communication.  He only hinted at a trove of explosive information in his possession, telling them little other than that the information would be worth their time.

When they traveled to Hong Kong to rendezvous with their informant, the duo had no idea that these documents would reveal massive illegal NSA domestic surveillance programs that were kept off the books.  After some careful maneuvering, they meet the source – Edward Snowden (who actually prefers to go by “Ed”).  His identity comes as no surprise, though his words and what they reveal about his personality and motivations provides a gripping, enlightening watch.

While Poitras is intimately involved with the events she portrays, her “Citizenfour” manages to keep a healthy distance away from the proceedings.  Even with her relative neutrality, the film both engrosses and enrages.  As she unspools the story behind the story, Poitras also manages to provide the most in-depth portrait of Snowden.  Clad in plained-colored T-shirts, he speaks of a convincing candor and conscience as he relays sophisticated technical knowledge into intelligible terms.

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