Rating3.5 / 5
Scott Z. Burns
Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm
14 November 2019
Scott Z. Burns unveils one of the darkest times in American history with a film filled with purpose and rage.
The Report is trimmed, lean and single-minded in its pursuit of justice. It follows Dan Jones (Adam Driver), a U.S. senate staffer who is assigned to investigate the CIA’s interrogation practices following the attacks on 9/11. CIA agents were sent deep into Al-Qaeda territory and held suspected terrorists in undisclosed black sites. What went on in these sites remained largely unknown for much of the decade, until ethical people began suspecting foul play. The truth is that most of the CIA got away with crimes the Nazis did not.
Much of The Report is riveting, especially once the plot settles in and stretches its legs. The beginning is too hectic and esoteric to be properly absorbed. We start some time in 2013, where Dan Jones is seeking legal counsel after allegedly hacking the CIA. We then zip to 2005 in Washington D.C., then forward to 2008. Then flashbacks yank us to 2002 in Pakistan. Bam! We’re in 2010, 2011, 2012. All the while interspersed with flashbacks. Too much happening with not enough context. The screenplay, written by director Scott Z. Burns, speaks in slangs and acronyms. If you start the movie lost, you might spend the rest of it wishing you had a glossary in your hands.
Thankfully, The Report is not about details. It’s about the big ugly picture. The simple fact that the CIA employed dubious third-party contractors who packaged flimsy “enhanced interrogation techniques” to basically beat the truth out of suspected terrorists. That the CIA justified torture as long as it produced results and then tried to cover it up when it didn’t. That Dan could barely get anyone to read his report since the order authorising torture came directly from the White House. These are the broad plot points you need to appreciate The Report, and Scott Z. Burns does a fine job positioning his heroes and villains clearly on both sides of the line.
After most recently seeing him expressionless in The Dead Don’t Die, Adam Driver is fresh full of life here as Dan Jones. The study completely envelops him. He is without a partner or a personal life to speak of. He is committed to the truth, as, I hope, we all are. And some of Driver’s best scenes come when he is faced with heavy opposition from the CIA and coolly continues his crusade until, faced with impossible odds, he considers leaking his findings to The New York Times.
The Report is by no means an easy read. It knows the story it wants to tell and tells it, though not always in the most efficient way. And there are too many flashbacks of gratuitous waterboarding scenes. We saw enough of those in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), where incidentally, they also made me feel sick to my stomach. Either way, this is a fast-paced, clever movie about one of the darkest times in American history. As the late John McCain so judiciously asserted, “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not”.
Images courtesy of Transmission Films