Movie Review: 'The Report' Adam Driver Excellent in Modern History Drama

Adam Driver is excellent in exhaustive recount of modern American history.

Movie Review: 'The Report' Adam Driver Excellent in Modern History Drama

The story behind the so-called Torture Report is a strange and fascinating one. The comedy history podcast The Dollop brilliant captured the absurdity contained in the report in a 2016 podcast called The Torture Psychologists. In that podcast comedians Dave Anthony talked about the strange duo that the CIA turned to in their bizarre and futile attempt to justify torturing supposed terrorists.

The new movie The Report prefers something far less absurd in telling the history of the use of torture as a tactic employed by American intelligence agencies. Taking the perspective of the man who told America about the horrors enacted supposedly on behalf of our safety, Daniel Jones, The Report finds a different sort of absurdity in how telling the truth gets caught in the web of spin and politics in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Jones is an analyst, he lives to compile data and give order to it. Jones was a natural choice to sift thousands upon thousands of documents to bring together a full picture investigation of the use of torture tactics against detainees at so-called CIA Black sites. Despite violating numerous laws that had to be rewritten in order to be un-broken, the CIA seemingly never failed to document the horrors they committed in the course of their work gathering intelligence.

Something about September 11th caused members of the CIA to ignore facts and seek only a special kind of vengeance. Led by director George Tenet (Dominic Fumusa) and his top lieutenants, played by Maura Tierney and Joanne Tucker, the CIA came to believe that torture or ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ were the best ways to get information from a suspected terrorist. That this tactic happened to satisfy a very specific type of primal need for vengeance somehow eludes them all.

Strong evidence indicates that the tactic of creating rapport and developing relationships with potential informants was a more effective way of gleaning actionable intelligence, the CIA nevertheless plunged ahead with E.I.T. under the guidance of a pair of ethically flexible psychologists Bruce Jessen (T Ryder Smith) and James E. Mitchell (Douglas Hodge). Jessen and Mitchell claimed to have scientific evidence that E.I.T. was effective though when pressed they could not produce it.

All of this is shockingly revealed well after the fact as Jones begins to untangle the CIA web from inside the CIA offices and under the direction of powerful Senator Diane Feinstein (Academy Award winner Annette Bening), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein handpicked Jones and while he definitely gets on her nerves, her power may have been the only thing that got the torture report to see the light of day. Jon Hamm and Tim Blake Nelson round out the cast as a top official in the Obama administration and a doctor who witnessed E.I.T. firsthand.

Adam Driver brilliantly captures the kind of single minded focus it must have taken for Jones to craft his lengthy and exhaustive report. Driver’s charisma drives the action around and through the dry exposition needed to lay out the stakes of what Daniel Jones was doing, and his forcefulness is more than enough to establish the stakes. Driver’s Jones is committed, driven and uncompromising which makes his anguish over the politics of the report so incessantly compelling.

Annette Bening is wonderful as well as the complex, shrewd and compromising Feinstein. Though she can be faulted for many things, Diane Feinstein can be pointed to as one of the key reasons that torture is no longer tolerated among our vast intelligence operations. Granted, the ineffectiveness of torture likely would have ended it as a tactic eventually, but Feinstein bringing it to light was a needed public reckoning, and Bening is wonderfully, charismatically empirical in wielding Feinstein’s power.

The Report is the second directorial effort from well known screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, known for his partnership with Steven Soderbergh on the trio of The Informant, Contagion and Side Effects. Working apart from Soderbergh, Burns directs with efficiency if not flair. Burns’ visual style is spare, preferring tight closeups and claustrophobic office spaces to more visually exciting locations. It works for the material which lends itself toward the kind of confinement experienced by those being tortured and those applying the torture.

Burns’s screenplay is a solid and straightforward effort that relies heavily on the cast to give it life and color. There is a spare and lean quality to the script and the un-theatricality works to give gravity to the presentation of facts that approximates The Report. This is a similar style that Burns brought to his work with Soderbergh on Contagion, which was based off of a bare bones CDC report on what a massive scale outbreak of a communicable disease might look like from the perspective, for the most part, of those tasked with fighting the outbreak.

The Report is a thoughtful and factual presentation that manages to provide the facts while also strongly making the case for how wrong torture is on a moral level without moralizing. The presentation of facts demonstrates torture as inhuman and ineffective while Driver’s passionate performance strongly personifies what an utter disaster torture is as both a tactic and as a stain on the worldwide reputation of our country. He does this with simple, direct dialogue and not with grand speeches or pronouncements. It’s a brilliantly low key way of making a powerful statement.

Would I have preferred something with more of the absurdity that The Dollop captured so hilariously? Perhaps, but let’s not review the movie that The Report is not. Hopefully someone someday will make the movie I want to see out of Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds’ wonderfully absurd telling of the story, that I would title ‘Juce,’ but, for now, we have The Report, a more dignified but impactful telling of that story.

movie review
Sean Patrick
Sean Patrick
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Sean Patrick

I have been a film critic for more than 17 years and worked professionally, as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association for the past 6 years. My favorite movie of all time is The Big Lebowski because it always feels new. 

See all posts by Sean Patrick