A film about a five-year Senate inquiry that resulted in a 6,700-page report written by a bland man working alone in a concrete basement room may not sound like riveting, must-watch stuff, but The Report (which itself may be the blandest of bland titles) is instantly reminiscent of political thrillers along the lines of 1976’s All the President’s Men and 2017’s The Post.
Writer-director Scott Z. Burns goes deep behind the scenes of the American political system to reveal the machinations that resulted in the torture of suspected terrorists in the wake of 9/11, and what he puts forth on film may infuriate and/or disgust, but it’s a story that begs to be told. And Burns does it very well.
Adam Driver stars as investigator Daniel Jones, who wrote the study that wrapped up the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Bush Administration and the CIA. And while much of the film involves little more than Senators speaking in committee rooms or extended shots of Jones poring over volumes of emails, memos, and letters, The Report finds a way to emerge as one of the more compelling films of the year.
After a brief prologue that serves as the flashback point for Jones’ narrative, The Report begins with a group of CIA counter-terrorism experts watching the September 11 attacks unfold before them on television screens. Within days, President Bush gives the authority to capture and detain suspected terrorists, and when the first is brought in six months later, the agency hires independent contractors Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith) and James Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) to devise the interrogation protocols. Those protocols, now known the world over as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, were used on 119 prisoners and provide the key focus of Jones’ investigation.
With a loaded cast that also includes Annette Bening (excellent as Senator Dianne Feinstein, who commissioned Jones’ study), Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, and Jon Hamm, The Report has all the talent required to take the dialogue-heavy script and turn it into a well-crafted thriller. Driver, a far cry from the lightsaber-wielding space villain we will all revisit in a few weeks, anchors The Report with a stoic and determined performance perfect for the subject matter, cementing his standing as one of the more talented and versatile actors at work today.
The images of mistreated Guantanamo Bay prisoners from the mid-2000s and the horrifying stories of waterboarding (which Burns recreates with a spot-on level of detail) are still burned into the minds of much of the population, and The Report won’t do anything to make them go away. (In fact, it’s likely the audience will leave even more infuriated than before.) But it’s a story that begs to be told, not only as an exposé of one of the darkest points in recent American history’s but also as a never-preachy blueprint on how to make sure it never happens again.