James Clay// Film Critic
THE REPORT marks a strange time in American history, where we were running scared after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Our government sanctioned a list of tactics, namely waterboarding from a private company that essentially pitched a contract to take drastic measures (with enhanced interrogating techniques with prisoners who were suspected of assisting terrorist efforts in the Middle East). This became a systemic issue that certainly will be a black mark in our history.
Scott Z. Burns (screenwriter of CONTAGION and the upcoming Bond film NO TIME TO DIE) directs THE REPORT. It details a true story about a small team of Senate Intelligence officers working for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening). The team is led by Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), who is gathering data to write a paper proving that these measures were, in fact, torture.
Making a movie about people writing a covert paper that was eventually released doesn’t exactly scream cinematic. Yet, Burns made a film ripe with tension that approaches this issue from a bipartisan standpoint. While the subject matter may keep some at a distance, he crafts his movie as a humanitarian issue rather than one rooted in politics. Burns’ script weaves political policy into a cinematic journey that’s palatable for those not familiar with what goes on Capitol Hill.
THE REPORT acts as kind of an outlier in cinema. Burns’ story takes a professional approach to getting its information across. There’s little character building with Daniel Jones – but that’s because there’s no time for anything other than work. Beginning in 2003, Jones takes a meeting with Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm) about working intelligence for the White House, and we get a glimpse of the many faces and places it takes for things to get done in Washington. It’s nothing but red tape and headaches. With little external emotion, Jones finds his place with being tasked uncovering the systemic torture that was taking place with the confines of these prisons. Reports were misfiled, information was misrepresented to policymakers, and it was all rooted in the quest for information. As Dan reports back to Senator Feinstein, he tries every attempt at moving the barometer to convince her to bring this up to her policymaking committee.
Burns crafts a film that navigates its plot through the years, culminating in December 2014 when the 6,700-page report was released to the American public. Burns is a longtime collaborator of Stephen Soderbergh (director of TRAFFIC and Netflix’s THE LAUNDROMAT), so he’s no stranger to taking hot-button political issues and turning them into wildly entertaining pieces of cinema.
We pick up in various stages of Jones’ journey from meetings with bullish CIA directors (Ted Levine), to backdoor dealings with reporters (Matthew Rhys), and we get a behind-the-scenes look at what really went on while these prisoners were in American custody with little to show for it other than false information. As we move through this exhausting world, it becomes about a sense of personal duty for Jones, who toes the line of being a hero and a traitor.
Driver is having a banner year as he has quickly become of the finest American actors of the decade, and this isn’t a showy performance but displays his greatest strengths keeping resolve when emotion could be your worst enemy. While Bening takes a character turn that is atypical to her signature flighty roles, she plays the former Senator with a hopeful, yet skeptical disposition that constantly challenges Jones’ position not to make things difficult, but to make things right.
Nothing is held back as the film trudges along, and we see more inconsistencies in how the political animal in Washington operates. Daniel acts as the audience surrogate as tension boils over, and the limits of what he is willing to take slowly evaporates. It’s a wonderful turn of events that culminates in a few crucial moments that could have years worth of research circle the drain with one false move.
THE REPORT is a film you have to experience to get the full scope of what it has to offer. Burns laces his film with many nuggets of political injustices and frustrations that have been plaguing Americans for nearly 20 years. Republican, Democrat, or Independent, the only side THE REPORT chooses is the fight for human rights.
THE REPORT opens in select theaters on November 15, and will be available on Amazon Prime Video on November 29.