Thursday, February 26, 2015


Directed and co-shot by Laura Poitras, Citizenfour is a documentary about Poitras meeting with Edward Snowden and his involvement with the NSA spying scandal in which he became the whistleblower as he and others he was interviewed by get into trouble. The third part in a post-9/11 trilogy about the world is an exploration into security and what the American government was willing to do to keep tabs on its own people. The result is a fascinating yet frightening film about the world being watched as their privacy is being taken away.

In 2013, news emerged about the actions of the National Security Agency where they would spy on not just Americans in their home country but also in various places in Europe came to the forefront of the public eye. The world began to question not just the American government over their actions but also into how it threatens the idea of liberty and self-liberty. All of which was exposed by a former NSA contractor in Edward Snowden who was in hiding when all of this happened as filmmaker/journalist Laura Poitras would receive emails about the actions of the NSA as she was contacted by Snowden under an alias where the two would eventually meet in Hong Kong with journalist Glenn Greenwald of the U.S. edition of The Guardian and another journalist from that same publication in Ewen McAskill.

In the course of eight days, Poitras would capture these interviews between Snowden, Greenwald, and McAskill as questions begin to emerge about the actions of the NSA as it relates to keeping tabs on everyone in America as if they’re suspects for any upcoming terrorist actions in the wake of 9/11. Through what Snowden reveals to Greenwald and McAskill, the two journalists would reveal to the world what is going on as the NSA becomes questioned into their actions as many wondered why is the ordinary citizen being spied on by its own government. It is there that George Orwell’s ideas of a dystopian future that he wrote in the book 1984 not only starts to come true but also in some of the most unexpected ways. Once it is revealed that it was Snowden who revealed these actions, that’s when things become dangerous as Snowden knows he will be targeted by the American government.

Shot in various locations such as Hong Kong, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, London, and other locations in the world along with some shots in the U.S. in 2011/2012, Laura Poitras does aim for a style that is reminiscent of cinema verite where she stays in the background filming these interviews. Especially as Poitras herself had been a target of the American government over her criticism of their actions from previous films that she did. Her encounters with Snowden through encrypted chats, which are presented through the visual effects work of Killian Manning, play into the secrecy of these meetings. Even as both she and Snowden are targeted where she would return to Berlin while Snowden is charged for his actions as he couldn’t stay in Hong Kong for very long. It plays into a man who was trying to do what was right only to anger Big Brother in such a way that Big Brother wants this little whistleblower in prison.

With the help of co-cinematographers Kirsten Johnson, Katy Scoggin, and Trevor Paglen, Poitras captures not just the beauty of these locations but also maintain something that feels real in its look as well as impact over what is happening during the filming of these interviews. Along with the work of editor Mathilde Bonnefoy and sound designer Frank Kruse, the interviews are presented in a straightforward fashion while also featuring sound clips including Poitras reading her own emails and correspondence with Snowden. For the film’s music, two cuts from Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album Ghosts I-IV appear as it plays into the sense of drama as well as a world that is starting to wake up as they realized that their own personal freedom is being taken away by the people that is supposed to protect them.

Citizenfour is a riveting and harrowing film from Laura Poitras. It’s a documentary that not only captures a world that is losing its own freedom but also explore the man who would unveil this new formation of Big Brother to the public as he’s being punished by the people that is supposed to protect him. Especially as it showcases what the world has become where it’s driven by fear rather than understanding where Edward Snowden was just someone who needed to tell the world that Big Brother is taking away our freedom. In the end, Citizenfour is a sensational film from Laura Poitras.

© thevoid99 2015


Optimistic Existentialist said...

I'd love to see this. Sounds very intriguing!!

Ruth said...

I never thought that a film that's pretty much about guys talking in a hotel room could be so riveting. But given the subject matter and its weight & impact on anyone who's ever been online, this is completely engrossing to me. I ended up putting this on my Top 10 list of the year, glad it won an Oscar too!

thevoid99 said...

@Optimist Existentialist-It's currently on HBO so check your listings.

@ruth-It was better than I thought it would be. I definitely want to see Poitras' other films as I want to know what else she is saying. I'm glad it won the Oscar even though I think it should've gone to Life Itself if it had been nominated.

Ben Broadribb said...

For any UK readers, Citizenfour was on Channel 4 earlier this week and you can watch it free online on 4OD for the next week or so.

Great review, I'm still getting my head around this film to do my own write up. It's one of those films that captures a moment of history as it happens, so will almost certainly live on for years - if not decades - to come.

Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I caught part of it on HBO the other day, and I'm going to DVR it as soon as it comes on again. I wasn't expecting it to be available so quickly.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. This is definitely a riveting documentary. I think I was most taken with Snowden's overall relaxed demeanor. He's talking about such scary shit, but with such a matter-of-fact cadence. This shit is real for him.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see this. I don't have HBO, but once this hits DVD, it's in my player. Awesome review.

thevoid99 said...

@Ben Broadribb-It's definitely very scary over what was happening and what might be happening now. Especially as our privacy is being taken away by the fear of our government. It's certainly going to be seen for years to come.

@Brittani-DVR it now and then watch it. It is really an awesome doc.

@Alex Withrow-I'm sure he had to be calm considering what he was discovering. It must've been uneasy for him to be the one to reveal these things and get into such trouble.

@Fisti-It's a must-see as I'm sure a DVD/Blu-Ray release will come as it really plays into what is going on with the world.

Luke said...

I thought that the use of the 2nd track of Ghosts I-IV was brilliantly used. There are so many tracks on that album that I would love to use in a movie.

This documentary was riveting but at the same time scary as all fuck. I heard about Snowden & Greenwald breaking the story prior to watching it.

Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Luke-Ghosts I-IV I think is among one of the most underrated albums of the the past 10 years. It's the most unlikely kind of album any act would release but it's managed to do so well. Plus, there's so many good tracks as it is perfect for the soundtrack as the 2 cuts that are used in the film is perfect.