In the history books, the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program will also be known by its simpler and far more loaded name: torture. The ill-advised program was created in the wake of 9/11 and used to extract exactly no new, credible, or actionable information that could be pointed to and said that a single act of potential terrorism was stopped before it happened. And we know this thanks to a massive document called The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, released in 2014 and researched by a small number of staffers chosen by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (played in The Report by Annette Bening).
The head of the team was staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) who received government training in intelligence gathering and did his job admirably despite countless roadblocks thrown up in his face, including ones placed there by the CIA, the White House, and Congress. By adhering to the facts with an almost religious fervor, writer-director Scott Z. Burns (known primarily as a screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh films like The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, and his most recent, The Laundromat) has created one of the most riveting and believable thrillers in recent memory.
Jones and his team set as their goal to simply walk through the CIA’s limited records of every prisoner interrogated in this way to see if even one gave the agency any useful information after enduring a battery of sensory overload/deprivation experiments, physical abuse, humiliation tactics, and, of course, waterboarding. Along the way, evidence was destroyed, laws were broken, potential witnesses were made unavailable, and flat-out lies were told in an effort to keep this information away from the investigators, Congress, and the American people. I have the 550-page executive summary of the full report, so Spoiler Alert: the obstructors failed. But across the several years that Jones worked on this, his life and reputation took brutal hits. He was called a traitor, accused of treason, and was likely under heavy surveillance for quite some time.
In order to keep this rather large cast of characters straight, Burns casts a great number of familiar faces in even the smallest roles, including the likes of Ted Levine as CIA Director John Brennan, as well as Michael C. Hall and Maura Tierney as CIA big shots trying to keep the torture program going but secret. Jon Hamm plays White House Chief of Staff (under Obama) Denis McDonough, who is attempting to keep the tentative spirit of cooperation between the president and Congress from exploding because of this report (for the record, most of the torture took place during the Bush administration). Look for appearances by Corey Stoll as Jones’s attorney, Tim Blake Nelson as a CIA employee and informant for Jones, and Matthew Rhys as a New York Times reporter who Jones alerts about the report but can’t actually leak to him.
Burns has given himself the almost-impossible task of telling an incredibly dense story with little more than exposition and the occasional flashback to moments Jones discovers during his investigation. As tense as things get during The Report, the likely overwhelming feeling a viewer will feel is rage at how brazen and sweeping the cover-up attempt was, all done under the umbrella of national security. And at the center of the storm is Driver, also seen this week in his radically different role in Marriage Story, who is so engaging and focused in his performance that he makes it possible to digest large amounts of dialogue and layer upon layer of truth (and the counters to truth). These two performances actually make me all the more excited to see him reprise his role as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker next month. And while his work in Marriage Story will likely be the higher profile one come awards season, he’s no less remarkable in The Report.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, and begins streaming on Amazon Prime on November 29.
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