THE REPORT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Scott Z Burns

Stars: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Douglas Hodge, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Scott Shepherd, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Sandra Landers, Scott Shepherd.

Adam Driver in The Report (2019)

Washington 2009. Obama is in the White House. Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J Jones (Adam Driver) has been tasked by his boss, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening) who was chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with compiling a comprehensive report detailing the CIA’s illegal use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) during the war on terror.

He is stuck in a sterile, cramped windowless office in the bowels of the Senate building, with only a small support staff and no printers or outside internet access. Jones begins to work his way through thousands of documents and interviews. He is keen to try and expose the truth of the CIA’s illegal activities, and he becomes a little disillusioned by the cover-ups and obfuscations from the agency. Jones is drawn into the dirty secrets of the shadowy world of CIA activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq in which terror suspects were detained in black sites without charge and tortured to reveal details of terror networks.

But he also finds himself in a sort of Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare as he tries to get the report approved and passed by the Senate oversight committee. It eventually took Jones and his team six long and frustrating years to complete the damning report. He is hampered by the refusal of key CIA personnel to talk to him. While much of the illegal activity occurred during the Bush administration, the Obama administration doesn’t exactly emerge unscathed either.

The Report is a cynical and important drama that is critical of the US’s war on terror and exposes the lies and distortions used to justify the war on terror. The opening titles clearly state The Torture Report, until the word “Torture” is redacted, which clearly states the agenda of the film. The film even references Zero Dark Thirty, the leaking of the Pentagon papers and people like Edward Snowden to give the material some context of past government scandals and the whistle blowers who have attempted to reveal the truth.

The Report has been written and directed by Scott Z Burns, who has written films like Contagion for Stephen Soderbergh. He has worked with Soderbergh on many of his films and has employed many of his mentor’s stylistic touches here, including cinematographer Elgil Bryld (Ocean’s Eight, etc) using a washed-out colour palette for flashbacks, and a semi-documentary approach. There are some quite confronting scenes of torture seen through extended flashbacks. This is a heavily dialogue driven drama, but Burns does ratchet up the suspense effectively as Jones doggedly pursues the truth. The film seethes with a repressed sense of anger and outrage. Making only his second feature film here, after the little seen 2006 drama Pu-239, Burns has also clearly been inspired by those paranoid 70s political thrillers like All The President’s Men and The Parallax View.

Driver is understated in the role of the determined and obsessive Jones. He is essentially a decent man, but because of the nature of the work and his obsession with trying to complete the report he has no real personal or social life. Bening has a solid presence as the largely unflappable Feinstein, who has to walk a fine line between pushing the investigation and seeking justice but also smoothing the path of the 7,000-page report through the Senate without ruffling too many feathers or upsetting her political masters. Ted Levine (from Silence Of The Lambs, etc) brings bluster to his role as recently appointed CIA director Brennan. The ensemble supporting cast includes Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Douglas Hodge, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Scott Shepherd, Corey Stoll, and Maura Tierney, with Republican Senator John McCain appearing via archival television footage. 

This fascinating insight into the abuses of power and the blatant attempts to manipulate public perception and justify the CIA’s duplicitous actions is uncomfortable viewing because it cuts close to the bone of contemporary politics. But The Report is also a great companion piece to the superb British drama Official Secrets, in which Kiera Knightley plays a government employee who exposes the lies about WMDs that were used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

★★★☆

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