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Soundtrack review: Snowden (Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Snowden (Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters – 2016)


“Snowden” is a 2016 biographical political thriller film directed by Oliver Stone and written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald. The film is based on the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, LaKeith Lee Stanfield, Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage. The film follows Edward Snowden, an American computer professional who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian in June 2013. Among other things, the classified information revealed extensive illegal cyber-snooping on millions of unsuspecting American citizens which was unknown to even Congress at the time.

I am not a big fan of the main character but I know Oliver Stone can deliver some intriguing political thrillers. The score has an interesting story in that there are two separate releases: one features the film music by Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters and one featuring just the orchestral score by Armstrong. This is a review of the first one, the electronic score.

As a fan of experimental music I am fascinated by how the score opens. “Hotel Mira” has the charm of a spy encounter as well as the murkiness of acting from the shadows. The mix of electronic and ambient provide a nice balance of danger and calm and I like this cue even if it gives me chills. As the next Adam Peters cue develops I get Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross nostalgia; the music has that unmistakable metallic winter cold exterior which hides an emotional core. The keyboard motifs contrast with the pulsating ones and I like what I hear.

The mood changes when Craig Armstrong writes. The electronic moments are toned down and the music gets dreamier. It’s ironic how a cue titled “Burden of truth” actually gives me the impression of relief, of a weight being lifted from one’s shoulders. I like how the line that divides the two composers is almost invisible; they both understood the story the same way and brought their own craft on the same canvas. You can hardly tell that the cues are written by separate individuals.

The quiet ambient tones appeal to me; the more abrasive sounds in some cues might turn some people off but this is how a score for a story like “Snowden” should sound like. There are enough moments where melody is lacking but the computer world is often cold and emotionless. For me the composers found a great way to introduce the human emotions and factor in the music. Just listen to a cue like “After all. Three hops to anyone” which starts with a simple pulse and develops into am almost romantic theme.

The electronic score for “Snowden” gave me a fix of synth music nostalgia and kept me guessing for the duration. If you like electronic music you will enjoy this one because it’s a smartly written score and I will keep it close for my reflective moments.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 13 / 42

Album excellence: 31%


Hotel Mira (Adam Peters)

Whatever Happened To Paradise? (Adam Peters)

Burden Of Truth (Craig Armstrong)

After All. Three Hops To Anyone (Adam Peters)

Snowden Moscow Variation (Craig Armstrong)


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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