'The Report' is Critical Reminder of Horrors and Lies of U.S. Torture Program

click to enlarge Annette Bening and Adam Driver in The Report. - VICE Studios / Atsushi Nishijima
VICE Studios / Atsushi Nishijima
Annette Bening and Adam Driver in The Report.

Twenty-nineteen is a big year for the good, tall actor Adam Driver. As emo villain Kylo Ren in the forthcoming Star Wars finale, he'll star in what will be the highest or second-highest grossing film of the year, (which is also to say, the highest or second-highest-grossing film of all-time worldwide). Opposite Scarlett Johansson in the forthcoming Marriage Story, he'll no doubt get Oscar buzz. Before its release on Netflix, the film already has a 94 rating on Metacritic, tied for the second-most critical acclaim of 2019.

And in The Report, which opens Friday exclusively at the Cedar Lee, he plays senate staffer Daniel Jones, who led the team that uncovered the extent of the U.S. detention and interrogation program in the wake of 9/11. An opening title card shows that the title was meant to be "The Torture Report," but "Torture" has been redacted.

While the film centers on government workers with virtually unhindered access to CIA cables and files, it's presented with the investigative-journalism flavor of All the Presidents' Men. Jones meets with journalists, politicians and torture-program alums in parking lots and other dimly lit venues as he gathers intelligence for his multi-thousand page history of the program.

In flashbacks, the film exposes exactly what the report exposed: that the U.S. policy of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (their euphemism for torture) was not only brutal and unregulated, but also utterly ineffective. CIA falsely promoted the program's success for years. In the hands of two clueless psychologists, (James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen), the torture program evolved to become increasingly inhumane as it produced little of value. Writer-Director Scott Burns (who also penned the screenplay for 2019's Panama Papers film The Laundromat), shows just enough of the grisly techniques to convey their horror.     

Annette Bening, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who commissioned the report, not only bears a striking physical and attitudinal resemblance to the legislator from California, but captures the delicate political balancing act of seeking truth while preserving working relationships with Republicans. Bening's is one of several solid supporting performances. Jon Hamm's, playing Obama adviser Denis McDonough, is another. 

But the unquestionable centerpiece is Driver as Jones. In one scene late in the film, he defends the report's findings to Feinstein after CIA lawyers have demanded a laundry list of edits and redactions. Driver here approaches the exasperation that journalists often feel when their facts are called into question. Having worked for five years on nothing but the report, he knows the material inside and out. Watching him lose his temper, his voice rising as he runs out of patience with the ineptitude and lies of the U.S. government, is like watching our own furious disbelief. 

While appropriately disgusted with torture techniques, and offering mild disapproval of Gina Haspel's appointment as CIA director despite her having run one of the agency's infamous "black sites", The Report concludes with what is ultimately an anti-whistleblower (and indeed, an anti-Snowden) message. It's one that celebrates America's capacity to recognize its own mistakes, provided the recognition emerges through channels deemed proper by Congress. It feels like a caveat in a film otherwise devoted to truth. 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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