A documentary following whistle-blower Edward Snowden as he prepares to leak scandalous information on NSA spying operations. He works with journalist Glenn Greenwald to publish the information.
Poitras is a trusted source of Snowden’s, and one of Citizenfour’s great strengths is just how close we get to the action. We see Snowden before the leaks even take place, before anyone had even heard of him. Journalists meet him and discuss the story for the first time. It’s intriguing to see how it all went down.
This is a prying look into the way big news stories are released. Cynics such as myself instantly recognise Greenwald’s eye for theatrics, and in fairness to Poitras she doesn’t shy away from this angle. Yes they need to get the information out, but that plays second fiddle to the fact people actually need to be listening when it happens.
People mumble about data protection a few times and an unwillingness to disclose information that could put lives at risk, but it sounds like hogwash. They want to kick up a fuss. This is only reinforced when you see Greenwald basking in the glow of the TV cameras. He’s got the story of a lifetime and he knows it.
Citizenfour has next to no information about the actual leaks. It’s a film about journalism, rather than about the story. It’s about Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras and friends. That’s OK but things frequently stray into self-indulgence. There are long takes of Snowden droning on like he’s some philosopher. We get one too many reminders that Greenwald is smart and can speak Portuguese. Poitras likes to film people looking nervous to ‘build tension’, and it’s annoying. One has to question who decided what made the edit.
This is one of those documentaries where the central point is so important it’s definitely a ‘must-see’. If you literally have no idea what the leaks are about then this is a great starting point, and you’ll definitely be searching for more information afterwards. However, I wish it’d been made by someone else. Citizenfour is compelling, original but incestuous.