September 15, 2016 5:57 AM EDT

A movie about a whistle-blower can be an exhilarating, galvanizing experience–unless it’s Snowden, Oliver Stone’s sincere, methodical yet almost completely lifeless account of how erstwhile CIA employee Edward Snowden turned over classified National Security Agency information to a series of newspapers in 2013, beginning with the U.K.-based daily the Guardian.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden, bespectacled, low-key, unnervingly bright: you feel for him when, as a deeply patriotic young man, he’s told he can’t serve in the Army after suffering a series of leg fractures. It’s always a challenge to play a recessive character, and not even a perceptive actor like Gordon-Levitt can reach Snowden’s core. In telling the story of this man’s angular shift from dutiful, politically conservative government employee to left-leaning antisurveillance champion of whistle-blowers, Stone has made a picture that barely breathes. Whatever you think of Edward Snowden’s principles, he put his life and livelihood on the line to uphold them. Snowden risks nothing.


This appears in the September 26, 2016 issue of TIME.

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