The Report, 2019.
Written and Directed by Scott Z. Burns.
Starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, Sandra Landers, John Rothman, Victor Slezak, Guy Boyd, Alexander Chaplin, Joanne Tucker, Ian Blackman, Dominic Fumusa, Joseph Siravo, Sarah Goldberg, Lucas Dixon, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Zuhdi Boueri, Carlos Gómez, T. Ryder Smith, Scott Shepherd, Jennifer Morrison, Kate Beahan, and Douglas Hodge
Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.
Wisely separating The Report from other familiar political thrillers, writer and director Scott Z. Burns (a frequent collaborator of Steven Soderbergh making his directorial debut) forgoes hiding what happened or any real sense of mystery. It’s out in the open (and repeated multiple times over the course of the two-hour running time for good measure); the CIA got into a partnership with some truly eye-raising psychologists that legitimately believed physically punishing the enemy would yield answers to the most pressing questions. Obviously, they were wrong and a couple of insane, psychopathic morons.
Another smart creative choice is that Scott Z. Burns is not interested in holding back a firsthand viewing of some of that inhumane torture, which includes everything from waterboarding to anal hydration to forced sleep deprivation (heavy metal songs such as Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People are blared over speakers as a means to keep the perceived threat, but still human beings, awake). Adam Driver is on an incredible acting role (he’s also deserving of the best actor nomination for this film and Noah Baumbach’s upcoming Marriage Story), but even phenomenal acting talent is not enough to do justice to the horrors that went on under the knowledge of Dick Cheney (let’s face it, he functioned as more of a President than George W. Bush ever did) and even Barack Obama (yes, the film is not afraid to scrutinize some choices our best president in years made).
Said gifted performer portrays United States Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked with analyzing millions of pages of transcripts detailing the disastrous results from “enhanced interrogation techniques”, of which the CIA tried to destroy all evidence. More unsettling, the failures didn’t stop the government from attempting to rewrite that history, chalking up recent historic events such as the pinpointing and inevitable murder of Osama bin Laden as a result of harshly torturing potential associates successfully retrieving information, which extended all the way to movies getting specific details wrong (there’s a really pointed jab at Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, an otherwise excellent film). Repeatedly jumping back and forth between timelines not only helps Scott Z. Burns establish a sense of urgency within exposing the truth but also smashes those comparisons together much tighter, making for a heavy experience that hits hard often.
Of course, as the CIA gets wind of Dan’s impending whistleblowing antics, CIA head John Brennan (Ted Levine) persists in getting the investigation shut down. At one point, Dan is looking at jail time, employing the service of an attorney played by Corey Stoll, which stronger emphasizes the ugly truth regarding how far America is willing to go to cover up its horrific wrongdoings, not only brushing them under the rug but into the Earth’s soil as to never be dug up. However, Dan is consumed with publishing the truth (his eventual report was over 7,000 pages), consistently butting heads with other journalists and his own superior played by Annette Bening. On a related note, her and Adam Driver on the same side but not without friction makes for the most intriguing dynamic to The Report; this is a film about journalistic integrity and pushing through all the setbacks to do what’s right, but it’s not without thoughtful heated debate from both perspectives.
When viewers are not having harrowing re-creations of disturbing torture thrown in their face, The Report indulges in a variety of conversations with easily understandable technical jargon, which most importantly never feels boring considering the frantic pacing and energy of the cast (especially Adam Driver, whose character doesn’t even realize Thanksgiving is approaching since he’s buried into searching for anything to expose the truth) keep the proceedings rolling along; time is of the essence and that notion is palpable. The one problem is that so much dialogue causes the script to fall into repetition occasionally; there are quite a few times where characters are just saying what is already established, leaving the narrative running circles around itself.
Nonetheless, The Report successfully manages to make its leading investigator likable without explaining away multiple details of his character (as the best films of this genre do); the distinct characteristics are all in the portrayal of the real-life figure. There is also a greater relevance in that the truth needs to be exposed no matter what, as the general public deserves to be in the know even if the government isn’t giving itself a good look. Wishful thinking, I know, but films like The Report give larger meaning to the work from often unsung heroes. This is intense and timely filmmaking, anchored by Adam Driver resiliently fighting for what’s right. The current political climate has only gotten more tricky to navigate, so here’s a reminder that the truth is always worth uncovering and exposing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com