Movie Review: ‘Citizenfour’ A Powerful Doc on Edward Snowden


Cole Clay // Film Critic

Director: Laura Poitras
Stars: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Jacob AppelbaumJeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras

In Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR, Ewen MacAskill from U.K. based publication The Guardian is sitting in a Hong Kong hotel room interviewing whistle-blower and enemy of the state Edward Snowden. The encounter took place in June of 2013, just days before Snowden went public with information that led to charges from the U.S. government claiming he compromised the Espionage Act. But the curious part about the encounter is MacAskill was collecting information by jotting down notes on a legal pad rather than a computer. MacAskill could just be old-fashioned, or maybe there is a looming fear that somebody is watching. From this moment on the film forms a dichotomy of visual cues that elude to either paranoia or something much worse.

Although this film documents a first-hand perspective on the news-worthy staples in Snowden’s history making story, the more gratifying elements have the film transcend documentary trappings. Poitras takes us down rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole that could have easily been convoluted within the tangled subject matter is instead a savvy spy-thriller.

CITIZENFOUR plays to the contrary of public’s opinion regarding Snowden’s actions and motives. By presenting and potentially proving a thesis, we watch the facts unfold first hand through journalists Glenn Greenwald and the aforementioned MacAskill’s eight day sit-down with Snowden himself. True, Poitras takes the facts at face value considering her source is an enemy of the state, but the revelations are no less reeling. Poitras didn’t seek out interview; she was pursued by Snowden himself, so essentially this film fell into her lap.

Laura Poitras talks CITIZENFOUR in the Walter Reade Theater. Photo by Hugo Massa.

Laura Poitras talks CITIZENFOUR in the Walter Reade Theater. Photo by Hugo Massa.

Poitras objectively fashions Snowden’s story into a perspective that is void of all vanity; Snowden states that he is merely acting upon the principle. As Snowden explains the ramifications of his actions, he anxiously ponders on what’s next for him. Will he see his loved ones again? Would he rather live a life imprisoned than protect Big Brother 2.0?

Whether he will be painted as a hero or a traitor is not Poitras’ concern. The point is to question the ethics for all parties involved, including Snowden. If this is acceptable in the public eyes than what is the next domino that is going fall?

CITIZENFOUR is intentionally antagonizing as it operates as a thriller and aims to protect social ideologies even if that task if largely implausible in the digital age.

All information regarding the films release and where it is located can be found on their website (

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.