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(2014) *** 1/2 R
114 min. Radius-TWC. Director: Laura Poitras. Cast: Jacob Appelbaum, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney.

/content/films/4736/1.jpgMeet Edward Snowden. Just about everyone has heard of the twenty-nine-year old NSA-consultant infrastructure analyst who blew the whistle on the U.S. government's program of warrantless mass spying on its own citizens. But Laura Poitras' exemplary documentary Citizenfour shares with us the privileged access Snowden ("I go by Ed") granted to Poitras and Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, thereby humanizing a man previously seen mostly in iconic terms.

That we're seeing Poitras' footage only now partly owes to Snowden's own concern that he would become the story, distracting from the incendiary revelations he enabled out of his own idealistic sense of duty and at great personal cost. One inevitable byproduct of Snowden's actions is his own fame, and some may continue to interpret Snowden's motivation as self-aggrandizement. But to see an unrehearsed Snowden briefing his hand-picked reporters is to be impressed by his keen intelligence, humility, apparently pure motivation, and preternatural calm under unfathomable stress.

Articulate and poised, Snowden unceremoniously holds court in a Hong Kong hotel room over what Poitras calls an eight-day "encounter," beginning on June 3, 2013. Perhaps the most striking element of Citizenfour is that it is filled with language that sounds like hyperbole but isn't, like Snowden's assertion that the NSA is "building the greatest weapon of oppression in the history of man...a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not."

The resulting extraordinary "you are there" document of history unfolding evokes the paranoid thrillers of the post-Watergate years with action no more active than cloak-and-hacker lip-flapping: tech-speak and wonky talk of political philosophy and legal strategy. Citizenfour's centerpiece is its footage of Snowden's journalistic testimony and consideration of how best to share it and deal with the consequences of doing so, but Poitras also includes select footage of legal actions and public forums that offer contextual (and Snowden-friendly) perspectives on NSA overreach.

Citizenfour neither gives the full story of Snowden and his campaign nor purports to, but it does elucidate how (and convincingly argues why) Snowden colluded with journalists to expose oversight-free surveillance of civilians, which threatens to have a chilling effect on free expression (though ironically only Snowden's public revelation of the government's secret intelligence-gathering technology and methodology could widely spread that chilling effect).

Citizenfour stands firmly in Snowden's corner, and gives him a powerful mouthpiece, just as The Guardian's reporting did. Poitras' approach leaves out the skeptical perspective on Snowden (though it includes a few passing government "defenses" in PR and legal situations), but all the same, the uncontested facts Snowden reveals are cause for outrage, and issued from a convincingly sincere intent of "meaningfully" exposing and opposing the clandestine misuse of state power. As such, Citizenfour is a film every single American and, indeed, every world citizen should see and contemplate.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/25/2015

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay delivers an excellent special edition Blu-ray release of Citizenfour, which features better-than-adequate A/V specs and a great selection of bonus materials. The doc derives from variable video sources, so the picture quality is not always the astonishing kind we're accustomed to on Blu; rather, the image lacks in a sense of dimensional depth, and artifacting will be evident to viewers sensitive to things like macroblocking and banding. Still, the picture looks very similar to how it looked projected in theaters, and given the circumstances under which most of the footage was captured, it looks mighty fine indeed. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix handily handles the talky material; there are some audio "artifacts" here and there (like a bit of hiss), but in a way, such blips only enhance the film's cloak-and-dagger tone, and again, it's hard to imagine a better presentation than this entirely acceptable one.

Bonus features kick off with three "Deleted Scenes": "Methods Can't Be Questioned" (7:49, HD), "The Strength of Your Beliefs" (2:37, HD), and "A Scandal Is What It Is" (3:29, HD).

Best in set goes to "New York Times Talks with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and David Carr" (1:00:02, HD) records the newspaper-sponsored forum about the making and meaning of the film, and the relationships that developed in the process.

"Film Society of Lincoln Center Q&A with Laura Poitras and Dennis Lim" (28:22, HD) also winningly archives a public event, this time with the focus squarely on Poitras, in conversation with film critic Lim.

"'The Program'—A New York Times Op-Doc by Laura Poitras" (8:36, HD) is a short documentary with more from William Binney on government surveillance.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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