“It’s only legal if it works.” So goes an offered rationale for defending the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques after 9/11. It’s heavy, complicated subject matter that The Report handles with clarity and deft, creating an edge-of-your-seat investigative drama that manages to make reading memos look thrilling.
Adam Driver stars as Senate staffer Daniel Jones, tasked with writing a report on how the CIA handled terror suspect interrogations after the attack on September 11. Reporting to Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dan must not only pour through millions of documents but navigate a political minefield as well.
In many ways, The Report feels similar to 2015’s Spotlight. Both films involve deep dives into the investigations of inhumane crimes. But The Report manages to pull off a more incredible feat. While Spotlight had a whole team of journalists interviewing people, The Report really zeroes in on Dan Jones, who compiled much of his report by reviewing CIA emails and memos on a computer screen. It’s tough to make that kind of detailed research look captivating, but the director cleverly uses paper printouts stuck to the walls to help illustrate Dan and his small team’s work. Sure, it looks a little like when Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia decided there was a conspiracy in the mailroom, but it visually conveys the sheer number of detainees the team has to get through.
Investigations like this one often involve multiple players across many agencies, with names flying all over the place. It’s a testament to the tight script and a fantastic job by Driver that the audience can keep up with all the major players, hanging on Driver’s every word to try and catch the next crumb or clue. Director Scott Z. Burns smartly stays away from too many flashbacks and too many torture scenes. He puts just enough in to make clear that these “enhanced interrogation” techniques were straight up torture, played down with sanitized powerpoint presentations and dry phrases.
Based on a true story, the film keeps its focus on compiling and subsequent attempts at publishing the report and rarely veers into Dan’s private life outside of a few lines of dialogue. This laser-tight focus not only helps the audience from getting distracted but mirrors Dan’s growing obsession with the report, which quickly consumes years of his life.
Though clearly a film that looks down on the George W. Bush administration, the film doesn’t shy away from critiquing Barack Obama as well, especially when it comes to playing politics in the back-and-forth in getting the report publicly published. There are no rose-colored glasses for much of anyone in the film, lending it credibility and realism.
The Report is a thrilling, engrossing film about one man’s mission to fulfill his duty to his country by making the American public fully aware of past transgressions. It’s an edge-of-your-seat investigative drama with a laser focus. In classic 2019 style, it will make you both proud and ashamed to be an American, and leave you wondering what the public still doesn’t know.