The Report is a riveting examination of the importance of accountability anchored by an elegantly understated performance from Adam Driver.
If Scott Z. Burns' script for Steven Soderbergh's recent Netflix Original, The Laundromat, was his attempt to do The Big Short, then his screenplay for The Report (which Burns also directed and Soderbergh produced) is very much his answer to Spotlight. And while he's admitted he considered making the film a dark political satire in the vein of Catch-22 early on, he ultimately elected to go with an approach that emphasizes the "docu" part of docudrama, instead. It's a strategy that benefits the story being recounted here, allowing the movie to tackle its prickly subject matter (the CIA's use of torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) in a clear-headed and insightful manner that typically forgoes melodrama. The Report is a riveting examination of the importance of accountability anchored by an elegantly understated performance from Adam Driver.
Driver stars in The Report as Daniel Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who, in the mid to late 2000s, is assigned to investigate the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation tactics after it's revealed the organization destroyed over 100 video recordings of their interrogations during that time period. Answering to California's senior U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), Jones' six-year investigation concludes the CIA's "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (EITs) were not only tantamount to torture, but also virtually ineffective in gaining information and routinely misrepresented by the CIA as being otherwise. But when the Senate Intelligence Committee tries to publish Jones' 6,700 page report on the matter, they find themselves undermined by both the CIA and the White House, with President Obama's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm) leading the charge.
After a decade of collaborating with Soderbergh on multiple films, Burns has clearly picked up a thing or two from the director, and puts that knowledge to great use on The Report. Like so many of Soderbergh's joints, the movie is confident and stylish in its design, transitioning rhythmically between tinted flashbacks to the CIA's actions in the immediate wake of 9/11 and scenes in the story's present-day, where Jones and his dwindling team members comb through a mountain of documents in their efforts to paint a clearer picture of everything the CIA did. Eigil Bryld's restless camerawork captures the mood of anxiety and franticness as the CIA scurries to respond to the terrorist attacks and employs barbaric EITs on the suspects they capture, leading some of its agents to recoil in horror, even as others barely blink an eye about the idea of waterboarding and abusing prisoners. These sequences are complimented nicely by the calmer glimpses of Jones' investigation and attempts to present his findings to Feinstein in a level-headed manner (even when his obvious fury comes bubbling to the surface).
While the film is really a story about Jones' investigation and not the actual man, Driver excels in The Report and continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor with his work as the quietly determined protagonist here. As much fun as it is when Driver loses his temper as Kylo Ren or freaks out during one of his comedic roles, The Report proves he's just as fascinating to watch when he's silently processing information or working overtime to keep his emotions in check while rattling off facts and exposition. The supporting cast is just as subdued yet engaging in their performances, as the ever-excellent Bening and Hamm are joined by an ongoing parade of great character actors (Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Levine, and so on) who manage to leave an impression in their ever-brief appearances. Sometimes less really is more, as The Report illustrates.
Keeping that in mind, The Report's refusal to sensationalize its story is both its greatest strength and the factor that will probably make its less accessible to a larger audience. Its dry tone and finely drawn narrative arc allow its messages about the importance of oversight and governments being responsible for their actions (even after a new boss takes over) to take center-stage, but the movie can nevertheless be low-key to a fault at times. Again, though, that's the point, and The Report even directly calls out Zero Dark Thirty and 24 as examples of pop culture that over-simplify the CIA's unethical behavior, post-9/11, and try to make it exciting and palatable for the masses (while at the same time, letting the Bush and Obama administrations slightly off the hook for their complicity). Even so, this prevents The Report from being quite the mold-breaker it aspires to be.
Overall, though, The Report lives up to the hype it's been generating since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back at the beginning of this year, and gives its distributor, Amazon Studios, a real horse in this year's awards season derby. Fortunately, access for those who're interested in watching it won't be an issue either, seeing as the film will become available to stream shortly after beginning its limited theatrical run. But even if The Report struggles to draw a sizable crowd on the home market, its mere existence is important in its own right. Like "The (Torture) Report" itself, it's a reminder: those in power should alway be held accountable for their misdeeds, whether it changes anything or not.
The Report begins playing in U.S. theaters on Friday, November 15, and streams on Amazon Prime starting two weeks later. It is 119 minutes long and is rated R for some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture, and language.
- The Report (2019) release date: Nov 15, 2019