The Report, 2019.
Directed by Scott Z. Burns
Starring Adam Driver, Annette Benning, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Levine, Scott Shepherd, Matthew Rhys, Lucas Dixon, and Sarah Goldberg.
When dedicated, idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) is assigned the task of investigating the torture of suspected terrorists in the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation program, he opens a Pandora’s Box of cover-ups, conspiracies, and secrets, that threaten everyone involved.
There’s a scene in Scott Z. Burns’ terrific All the Presidents Men-style slow-burn thriller, in which somebody can be seen watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a version of the truth that The Report dismisses as Team America CIA self-promotion as a way of cover-up, before slowly ripping the scab from that period of American history, one that continues to bleed into today’s culture of mistrust and lies. It’s one of the smartest, subtly shocking, and insidiously thrilling films in recent memory.
As is the way with a film based on the composition of a seven thousand page report, this is often dense and requires a level of patience to get into, but once you’ve settled into the language of the film, got used to the initially discombobulating time-jumps, you’ll begin to take great pleasure from The Insider level smarts, and the genuine tension created as the pages begin to fray around the edges.
There are shady Scooby Doo style car-park liaisons, sleight-of-hand document exchanges, lines of dialogue dripping with dramatic weight that carry more impact than a million-dollar action set-piece, and they’re all expertly stitched together in an editing masterclass by Greg O’Bryant, and held in place by the glue of an outstanding performance from Adam Driver.
Arguably the most interesting actor working in film today, Driver brings a muted intrigue to the role. We get little or no information about his work outside of the senate, perhaps because he’s never away from his desk, but it’s no coincidence that he’s a man who works in a small room situated inside a building that looks like a giant box. He’s as impenetrable as the redacted secrets he’s trying to uncover.
It’s a role in sync with the way the film slowly evolves into a clenched-fist, desk thumping drama, with Daniel’s passion starting to fracture his stoicism at the same time pages begin to spill from the files. There is a moment in which Driver, seated to hear the result of a vote, the scene already weighted by unbearable drama, uses the twitch of an eye to convey more than his peers would do with a dossiers worth of dialogue. Driver is the master of less-is-more.
He’s aided superbly by Annette Benning, who plays Senator Diane Feinstein as someone who shares the same moral values as Jones, but has been around Capitol Hill long enough to know how Washington works. Her semi-snarl to end sentences is glorious to behold, especially during her standoffs with Ted Levine’s deliciously awful John Brennan. All of the actors are operating on a level that results in ‘people talking in rooms’ becoming some of the most memorable scenes of the year.
Burns also makes sure that The Report isn’t a po-faced history lesson either. There are a few opportunities for the ridiculousness of some of the governments mechanics to cause genuine belly-laughs, and pepperedamongst lines about “republican sentences or demographic paragraphs” are some playful exchanges that incorporate Winston Churchill and Jack Bauer quotes.
When it does deep-dive into true events, the revelations are startling. The torturers for hire, recruited on a contract of $80 million by the CIA, and headed up by Jim Mitchell (A skin-crawlingly brilliant Douglas Hodge), are horrifically incompetent, causing the sadly familiar interrogation scenes to feel that much more distressing. These awful actions and their ultimate pointlessness, all combine to make Jones’s crusade that much more indelible for the audience.
A thorough and meticulously rewarding journey, carried towards an anger-inducing resolution by terrific performances from Annette Benning and Adam Driver, The Report is as riveting and thought-provoking as film-making gets.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt