Director: Scott Z. Burns
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm, Matthew Rhys, John Rothman, Sarah Goldberg
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Rated R | Minutes: 120
Release Date: November 15, 2019
There is nothing more shocking and revealing than the truth. Scott Z. Burn‘s The Report is based on the true story of Daniel Jones’ investigation into the infamous Torture Report that followed after the September 11 attacks. The film takes a deep dive to uncover the heinous torture crimes committed by the CIA, and how they and the White House tried to cover it all up. While it is a slow and tedious political thriller, it is something that is filled with fast-paced dialogue, outstanding performances from Adam Driver and Annette Benning, and shocking revelations that will surely evoke anger and frustration.
Above all, The Report highlights the absolute necessity for investigative reporting. My full review here below.
Driver plays Daniel Jones, an idealistic staffer tasked with leading an investigation into the CIA’s practices of torture on terrorist suspects in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks. These enhanced interrogation techniques were inhumane forms of torture which included humiliation, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and more. Not only did Jones and his team discover that these torture tactics were brutal and disturbing, but they were also ineffective. The job nearly proved itself to be futile considering all of the obstacles that Dan had to overcome. It came with long hours, political red tape, and smear campaigns. But his unshakeable dedication to uncovering the truth proved to be the key to holding the CIA and the White House accountable for all of their crimes.
Though its lengthy run-time and slow pacing may feel like The Report is a tedious watch, the film’s fast-paced but very concise and one-note dialogue keeps things moving along. It also doesn’t allow for much nuance because of the severity of the subject matter, but really, that is of very little concern. That is because one cannot help but find themselves getting deeper and more engrossed into the story as Jones discovers more and more about the cover-up. It may be based on a true story, but it moves like an original political thriller: The political jargon, the slide shows that the twisted psychologists show to the CIA to prove that torture can produce valuable information, the disgruntled man who walks out of the shadows to provide Dan with vital information, and Dan digging through layers and layers of documents that detail how the torture process was disturbing and ineffective.
And despite all of that, it’s even more shocking that it went on for as long as it did and the CIA and the White House still tried to cover it up. So with each new discovery, Dan will be repeatedly blocked by higher-level bureaucrats who hoped that his report will never see the light of day. Not only that, but he is also hit with a lawsuit so heavy, that if he moves forward with it, it will bleed him dry financially. As the pressure continues to mount, the idealistic and stoic Dan that we saw at the beginning of the film becomes exasperated. However, his dedication to work never wavers, and he continues to go at uncovering the truth with a laser-like focus. We never see him outside in public much other than to go out for a run or two. Other than that, he is holed up in a cold and colorless room that is inside a larger building that looks dull and ordinary.
The Report doesn’t have much else going for it other than to deliver one shock after another and each one worse than the next as Dan’s investigation deepens. Not only does this highlight the importance of investigative work, but it also emphasizes the need for oversight and accountability. But what is even more surprising about this is that while all of the torturings happened during George W. Bush’s presidency, the attempt to scrub it happened during Barack Obama’s presidency. Writer/director Scott Z. Burns makes sure that the audience knows that both political parties are held accountable for the crimes of torture and cover-up.
There are plenty of these true stories that deserve to be told on a cinematic level. Some more so than others. But what makes The Report work so well is that Driver is able to deliver a solid performance by underscoring Dan’s tireless efforts to do five years’ worth of digging, reading, and sifting through piles of documents while also trying to cut through all the bureaucratic red tape and smear campaigns. There is no need for the film to be overly ostentatious. That would only cheapen everything about Dan’s real-life investigative work. Although the size of The Report does feel cinematic because of its star-studded cast, all of whom are in roles of varying importance. There’s Annette Benning as senator Dianne Feinstein, Maura Tierney as the cold CIA operative Bernadette, Douglas Hodge as the manipulative and twisted Dr. James Mitchell, and a collection of other actors and actresses that include Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Matthew Rhys, John Rothman, Sarah Goldberg, and more giving excellent performances with the material and time that they were given.
Ultimately, The Report accentuates the need for investigative work. While there may be different sides to every story, there’s no denying that The Report reveals a dark moment in American history, and it would have been a stain that would have remained hidden if it weren’t for Dan’s efforts. It is the kind of film that doesn’t need plot twists or popcorn moments because the true story itself will have the audience fully engaged. But it is also something that will surely stir a conversation between both sides of the political aisle. In the end, Burns uses his stellar cast and cinematic tools to tell a story that absolutely needs to be told to the big screen.