The making of a 7,000-page Senate committee report may not sound like riveting stuff, but in the hands of writer-director Scott Z. Burns and star Adam Driver, it makes for an utterly compelling watch.
The Report chronicles Senate staffer Daniel Jones’s six-year investigation in to the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and through it how the torture program began, why it remained in place even as its ineffectiveness became increasingly obvious, and how those in power tried to whitewash or justify it.
Distilling this complicated saga into an accessible two-hour movie can’t have been an easy feat, but Burns pulls it off with aplomb. Brisk pacing and a clear vision keep The Report from getting dragged into the weeds, even as Dan himself threatens to lose himself in them.
Credit also goes to Adam Driver, whose performance here isn’t his showiest, but is nevertheless one of his finest. The Report is a terrific reminder that as great as Driver is at big moments (and he gets a couple here), he’s just as fascinating when he’s not doing much at all. Annette Bening does equally fine low-key work as Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee that commissioned the report.
Though billed as a “political thriller,” The Report eschews explosive drama or white-knuckle tension. (At least, aside from an eye-roll-y conversation or two about how Dan’s problem is that he just cares too dang much.) Indeed, it directly calls out Zero Dark Thirty and 24 for their audience-friendly glorification of torture during this same time period.
The Report is close in tone to 2015’s Spotlight, another film that took a measured look into the painful and painstaking work of investigating an injustice that powerful institutions would do anything to cover up.
The Report doesn’t shy away from the horrors detailed in the report. There are several sickening scenes of detainees being beaten, humiliated, waterboarded, and hog-tied – “doing things the Nazis did,” in the words of an outraged senator – made all the uglier by the indifference of the CIA officials looking on.
The Report exposes a story of cowardice and half-measures, at a time when courage and strength were called for.
But just as chilling are the more mundane scenes in which people patiently watch PowerPoint presentations outlining all the different tortures that can be exacted on a detainee, or meet in conference rooms to agree that since waterboarding isn’t working, the logical next step is to unleash still more torture techniques.
The Report exposes a story of cowardice and half-measures, at a time when courage and strength were called for. Dan is asked to “find a middle ground” that’ll play better across the aisle, to be patient about the report’s release until the timing is more politically convenient.
As the screws tighten around Dan, a lawyer advises him, “You don’t really have a legal problem, you have a sunlight problem.”
Dan takes those words to heart, and it seems Burns did, too. If Jones is the one who brought this information to the public, Burns’ movie is an effort to make sure that all of us are paying attention.