93%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (4 Votes)

 Citizenfour is a captivating and eye-opening look into the actions of Edward Snowden smartly edited to play out as the scariest horror movie of the year.


Documentarian Laura Poitras is no stranger to getting up close and personal with her work, but she has crafted something really special with Citizenfour. Through startling stock footage, incredibly tight interviews, and clever editing, the movie ends up playing as a harrowing drama that keeps your attention throughout the two-hour run time.


Citizenfour documents the process of the groundbreaking leak of government information by controversial figure Edward Snowden over the past few years. Over the course of the film’s run time, we witness director Poitras first make contact with Edward “Ed” Snowden, watch the two of them, in conjunction with investigative journalist Glenn Greenwood, converse in a hotel about the plan of attack and eventual repercussions of doing so, and the aftermath of said plan and how the state of the country responds. Fans (and conspiracy theorists) will love the exploration of surveillance and spying in and from our government, and uneducated viewers will be absolutely blown away by these findings. It’s all something out of a Jason Bourne movie, but the shocking fact is that it’s all real. It’s all happening right on our soil, and it’s very frightening. To see it play out over several days is intense, and seeing, indirectly, the immediate effects to Snowden and his own life is heartbreaking but inspiring in the same way. There’s a part where he talks about his actions being like a Hydra, in that you can cut off one head and more will grow back, that gets you fired up inside. It’s all so cinematic without being a made-up narrative, and Poitras puts it all together so well that you can’t believe it’s all real.




Documentary fans and directors alike are used to experiencing the director getting in tight with the subject in order to get the right information, but Poitras does something unique in this situation, which gives this film its strength. The thing Citizenfour understands is that you don’t always need clever cinematic tricks to convey emotion. Poitras does that very well here. No flashy cuts, no omnipresent voice-over giving explanation, no overwhelming background music aside from an ominous drone. What you get is primarily three people sitting in a hotel room talking, but there’s a simple humility to the fact that one of these people is about to become so widely known for such a controversial act. We all know going in what’s happening, but not enough of us quite understand what took place and the immediate consequences. That alone shapes the narrative as a dramatic piece of film-making without the need for cosmetic fluff. The dryness of this filming technique may turn off viewers who are bored by the idea of two people talking in a room followed by court session stock footage (which is a shame). But, as mentioned, it’s all put together in a way that even the technical and dry court speak is intense and intriguing. Virtually no second of this movie is wasted, and nothing is added in for filler. Everything is in its place.



Citizenfour is a tough movie to talk about because it’s best experienced in person. That’s exactly what this film is, an experience. Yes, that might sound clichéd, but for somebody who went in almost too uneducated on the topic documented, it was an invigorating and educational experience that was presented in an extremely well-crafted manner. We are transported to the same room, on the same bed, as a figurehead that has become such a gargantuan, all while remaining somewhat mysterious. The true facts revealed are impossible to ignore and are incredibly eye-opening, and even more when you see how “day in the life” it all is for Snowden. Yes, some people love and support his decisions; some people view him as a traitor to the country. Citizenfour does an amazing job at opening the eyes of both parties and really strikes a chord of those who are neutral. The film is essential viewing for all standpoints so you can get an idea the most accurate way possible, by being there.


The Good: Incredibly well edited, provides a unique and humanizing look at Snowden


The Meh: Hotel conversations may bore the moviegoer with a tiny attention span

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.