Movie Review – The Report (2019)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Scott Z. Burns’ theatrical debut as director is as well-crafted as his screenplays. Burns is known mostly as the writer that has worked with Steven Soderbergh on projects like Contagion (2011) and The Informant! (2009). He also wrote The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). This film though is not his only credit for the year. He was the scribe for Soderbergh’s The Laundromat (2019). I mention it because I think this film has some things in common with his recent work this year, as well as his past works, specifically his work from a decade ago. Both The Informant! and The Laundromat are true-life stories about white-collar crimes. The Informant! is about a whistle-blower trying to expose the white-collar crimes. The Laundromat is about explaining the white-collar crimes by depicting those involved in it. Burns takes the dynamic of those two films and uses both dynamics to tell the story here, not about private businesses or corporations committing malfeasance but about political organizations or entities connected to political organizations engaging in wrong-doing.
Adam Driver (BlackKklansman and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) stars as Daniel J. Jones or Dan, a staffer for Sen. Dianne Fienstein who is a leading member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee is supposed to oversee the intelligence agencies like the CIA. In the wake of the Iraq War, which began in 2003, it was revealed that the United States was guilty of torture and prisoner abuse. Those abuses were exposed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq with pictures being shown in the media in 2004. The following year, it was reported that videotapes that existed of torture, not only at Abu Ghraib but at Guantanamo Bay, were destroyed, so Feinstein assigns Dan to investigate what was on the tapes and uncover what the CIA was hiding.
Dan is very methodical. He has a very sharp and analytical mind. He’s very dedicated. He forgoes his personal life in order to focus himself almost exclusively on his work. At times, he forgoes sleeping and eating. Some might see it as obsession, but Dan knows that his work is important and pouring over it meticulously is vital. He starts out as nonpartisan and impartial, and his conclusions are all fact-based and supported with the evidence that he was given. He has a dry humor and deadpan wit, but, eventually, he grows angry and annoyed, as he uncovers the torture and abuses. He especially becomes frustrated when the CIA disputes his findings and tries to stop him from releasing the 7,000-page report that he’s compiling.
Maura Tierney (The Affair and ER) co-stars as Bernadette, an officer in the CIA. After the 9/11 attacks, she becomes a leading member for wanting to root out terrorists and stop them from committing any more attacks. She meets with a team who proposes a series of tactics, known as the Triple D Method, which essentially are the building blocks for torture. She ignores the FBI whose lead agent, Ali Soufan, played by Fajer Kaisi, gives them a better way of interrogating prisoners. Bernadette instead goes with what’s called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which is just a euphemism for torture, actions that harm and kill prisoners. She finds a way to justify it with faulty logic, but still she does so.
Almost akin to Steven Spielberg’s The Post (2017), this film is boiled down to a single woman’s decision about whether she’s going to stand up and expose the truth against all odds and forces that threaten to keep it buried. Yes, we have to go through the process of learning what the truth is, as well as the ethics of people on the outside having to obtain the truth and what the consequences are if the truth comes out. That process is largely populated with men, but, in the end, it does boil down to a single woman’s decision. Here, that woman is Dianne Fienstein, played by four-time, Oscar nominee Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right and American Beauty). She’s of course horrified at what Dan discovers, but she has political concerns that she has to consider before and if she’s going to accuse an American intelligence agency of wrong-doing.
Like The Post, we have an incredible cast of actors who help fill out this world, giving solid performances. Among them is Matthew Rhys who was in Spielberg’s film two years ago, as well as this one. In The Post, Rhys played a government employee who considers informing the press. Here, he plays the reverse. He plays a member of the press trying to get a government employee to inform. There are a lot of great actors in supporting or small roles who work in effective ways too. This includes Douglas Hodge who plays James Elmer Mitchell, the man who basically comes up with the torture techniques. He’s so effective in selling something that is so blatantly ineffective and he does so with such a straight face. Burns directs the torture scenes very brutally, but Hodge’s reactions, along with Tierney’s, provide an ironic humor that carries the film past those brutal moments.
Jon Hamm (Mad Men) is also equally effective as Dennis McDonough, the chief of staff to President Obama during his second term. He’s there to show that it wasn’t just Republicans who wanted to cover up the truth. It was also the Democratic-controlled White House. No one can accuse this film of being partisan. The whole thing even ends with a powerful and inspirational clip of Senator John McCain who was the one Republican who was the most qualified to speak on this issue.
It caps what is a powerful story that is told just as well as Zero Dark Thirty (2012). I mention that 2012 nominee for Best Picture at the Oscars because Burns’ film is in a lot of ways a rebuke of that Oscar-nominee. Zero Dark Thirty was an amazing film that deserved its accolades, but, at the time, the film was criticized for how it depicted torture and whether or not that torture resulted in actionable intelligence. For anyone who had questions, this film answers those questions once and for all, which certainly makes this a must-watch.
Rated R for scenes of torture and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.
In select theaters, including Rehoboth Beach and on Amazon Prime on Nov. 29.