The Report Movie Review
If you ever did a group project in school, you’d want a guy like Adam Driver on your team. He’ll lock himself away for five years to research in detail millions of pages. Sure, he’ll reemerge haggard and smelling like Howard Hughes on a piss-jar binge, but he’ll have with him the most perfect 3,000-page research report on the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation program the world may never see.
Never mind that the assignment was about the influence of the Kardashians on pop culture.
The Report, the intense new investigative thriller from writer/director Scott Z. Burns, is a matter-of-fact depiction of the lengthy research process and behind-the-scenes political battle that followed in efforts to explain and hold accountable the people who approved and carried out the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques—which included sleep deprivation, confined space, and most notoriously waterboarding—a program that is now known to have been ineffective and in violation of the Geneva Convention.
You know, because torture.
Despite the movie spending a fair amount of its time confined to windowless rooms focused on people flipping through papers, Burns, in his first directing gig but with proper experience having penned the Steven Soderbergh thrillers Contagion and Side Effects—oh, and The Bourne Ultimatum—knows how to make the smallest of moments dramatic, most impressively without edging into melodrama.
No small credit should be given to Adam Driver, whose deliberate yet simultaneously emotional performance powers the film. It’s one of the year’s best performances, with Driver playing Daniel Jones, a man with a singular mission never mind the political or personal fallout. Driver is simply sensational.
Annette Bening is also very good as Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who essentially serves as Jones’ supervisor with intent to reveal the truth to the public—but who is also a politician and is unwilling to circumvent government procedure to make that happen, even if it means the truth never sees sunlight. Feinstein is a compelling character to play for this reason, and the seasoned actress does an incredible job both looking the part and straddling the complexities of the role.
Burns does a fine job of interweaving the research, politics, and practical events to form a captivating web. While he probably could have maintained momentum by staying solely focused on Jones, he makes the wise decision to bring some of the torture to screen—the reenactments of some of the methods used are disturbing, frightening and sad, and the fact that the U.S.—without the knowledge of then George W. Bush—resorted to such tactics is equally sobering. The Report, despite its political nature, remains surprisingly apolitical, but it’s undeniable that Burns wants to relay that the U.S. has an obligation to be the moral superior, and we fell far short.
The Report’s final act doesn’t grip you quite as much as the rest of the movie—perhaps Burns could only maintain momentum for a film about a Senate research investigation for so long—but the story is powerful, Adam Driver is incredible, and the movie strives for and largely succeeds at being this year’s Spotlight.
If only it had been about the Kardashians.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.