The Report (2019)
The Report (2019)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: November 15th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Scott Z. Burns Actors: Adam Driver, Jon Hamm, Annette Bening, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Levine, Matthew Rhys, Douglas Hodge

 


 

F

or five years, ambitious young Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver, stellar even in a role that doesn’t require much out of him) has been working on a report concerning the CIA’s detention and interrogation program – and it’s about to come to a head. “I think I should start at the beginning.” And so, the film backtracks to 2003, when he interviews with Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm), who suggests he approach the FBI about their counterterrorism program. By 2007, Jones is tasked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to look into destroyed tapes of Al Qaida interrogations, for which written records supposedly still exist. And by 2009, he’s off to Virginia to a Senate Intelligence Committee site where he can gain access to the relevant documents – though the powers that be are of little help.

Problematic from the start is the timeline, which jumps back and forth repeatedly, including with interspersed sequences from the 2001 terror attacks. Once the counterterrorism budget becomes unlimited, and the ability to capture and detain suspected terrorists on the battlefield is instituted, things grow even stickier. And so does the procession of events, which bounce between various black sites, bureaucratic meetings, instructional committees, and Jones or others scrolling through computer documents.

As details of the supposedly cutting-edge interrogation techniques are revealed, which are essentially sadistic forms of physical and psychological torture (including humiliation, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and being temporarily buried alive in coffins filled with insects), it quickly becomes evident how cruel and wrong-headed the whole program was. “And there’s science to back this up?” Plus, the information obtained is routinely negligible or worthless (and, it’s later admitted that the “Enhanced Interrogation” never actually worked on anyone).

Of course, the film isn’t just designed to expose (or, rather, reiterate) the horrors of the U.S.’ torture tactics (including the inanity of waterboarding a prisoner 183 times, only to determine that he told them whatever they wanted to hear); it also doubles as an example of the perpetual war (and stalemate) between the Republicans and Democrats, who aren’t keen to aid one another in any cause, just or otherwise. While the content of the film is terrifying and infuriating (comically so at times), it’s also not wholly captivating. Part of this is due to the frequent repetition and the flavorless approach to the subject matter, while a hearty portion of it is due to the chronology; it may be incredibly important material, but even the filmmakers realize they need to spice up the editing in order to engage viewers. It’s unfortunate that the facts themselves aren’t enthralling enough.

Unlike the faster-moving, blockbuster-styled “Zero Dark Thirty,” which covered similar themes (and is referenced here), “The Report” is largely an investigative procedural, following the people collecting and collating data in a dim basement while the higher-up officials work tirelessly to obscure the truth, hide behind legal loopholes, ignore accountability, and bury stories. From twisting the definition of torture, to keeping the president in the dark, to throwing the phrase “national security” around to suppress questions, it’s clear that anything can be justified if one tries hard enough (“they have their own narrative”). “Its very disconcerting,” says Feinstein, almost dismissively. Perhaps there just isn’t a great way to tell a story based on years and years of unadventurous, meticulous research.

By the end, as the revelations grow more pessimistic and maddening, culminating in the possible publication or quashing of the titular 7,000-page report (along with countless political implications), the movie does transition into something a little more exciting (manufactured, of course, through music, cinematography, lighting, and legal thriller gimmicks – such as raised voices and stern confrontations). Yet the eventual return to the opening scene is disappointing at best. But, though the real-life villains (mainly at the CIA, easy cinematic antagonists) expectedly avoided consequences, the finale is markedly satisfying.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10