June 27, 2013 at 8:56 AM ET
Fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, charged with violating espionage laws, is in the transit zone of the Moscow Airport, presumably trying to find a way to get to the Ecuadorian Embassy to seek asylum. How his story will end no one knows, but one Hollywood director is already envisioning what it would look like on the big screen.
Phillip Noyce, a director best known for spy and thriller films like "Salt" and "Patriot Games," told NBC News that he is personally fascinated by the espionage thriller that is playing out in front of the world. As he reads every article available about the case, Noyce says he can easily picture it as a suspenseful film with some comedic elements. He's already identified a possible leading man, but what excites him the most is that the verdict on the story's central question may remain unrendered for decades.
"This is a movie that's playing out before our eyes, even though we can't see anything," Noyce said. "We can't see the hero or the villain -- the central character. Like my last big movie, 'Salt,' it's a story where you're not quite certain if you're dealing with a heroine or a villain. And we may not be certain until the end of the movie or even beyond that. That's a beautiful duality to deal with when you're making a story or watching a movie. You can speculate he's motivated by complete unselfish motives through belief in protecting worldwide public interests. Or you can speculate he was himself a victim of knowing that notoriety might bring him immortality."
Who would play the 29-year-old who revealed the existence of the Prism Program, which gives the NSA direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other Internet giants? Noyce thinks that's an easy one: Liam Hemsworth, the 23-year-old actor who starred in "The Hunger Games" and "The Expendables 2."
"He's perfectly positioned as a rising star," Noyce said. "I think he'll probably be one of the great ones. His older brother, Chris, could also play him but Liam looks more like an everyman. I think he'd be perfect."
Noyce's movie, which he described as just "chatter in my head" for now, would open with the The Guardian's disclosure of Snowden as the leak and an exciting chase.
"We'd have this wonderful Harold Lloyd comedy sequence which is the best part of the movie - -the chase," he said. "In this case, it's a chase that's both funny and serious. It involves some of the highest officials in the world, and their different points of view while Mr. Snowden is holed up presumably at the Moscow Airport. That's a great sequence as world leaders argue over this 29-year-old and the merits or otherwise of his actions. "
The story, he added, also would need to feature WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and deal with the gaps in American intelligence-gathering illuminated by Snowden -- which brings up another key question the film would address: how safe are our secrets?
"Although Assange was the original whistleblower and people feel he did commit a betrayal, he changed American policy and how people felt about the war and the legality of the war," Noyce said. "And as far as Mr. Snowden is concerned, he was a contractor who did not inherit the ethos of a permanent public servant, like a CIA or NSA employee. But he seems to have had access to the names of operatives around the world and could have betrayed that confidence. The issue is not whether he did or didn't but that he could have. That brings up the security of our operatives, the people that willingly give their lives fighting the intelligence wars. Why did a 29-year-old contractor know so much? He knew who they are and had the ability to reveal that to the nation's enemies."
As an observer of the quickly unfolding story and its would-be storyteller, Noyce said he hasn't made up his mind about how he feels about his protagonist, Snowden.
"I would need access to him to understand his psychology a lot better," Noyce said. "In his own mind, he's obviously a hero. But what is truly motivating him? Does he want to be a 15-minute celebrity? Is it fame or fortune? Or does he truly want to sacrifice himself Christ-like for the rest of mankind? We don't know how this will end and the end might not come for another 50 years. We haven't even finished Act 1 yet."