The Report Sundance Review - Adam Driver

Scott Z. Burns has plenty of Hollywood experience as the writer of The Bourne Ultimatum, Side Effects, Contagion and The Informant. With his feature directorial debut The Report, one of our most anticipated titles of Sundance this year, the filmmaker shows that he’s picked up a step or two from directors Paul Greengrass and Steven Soderbergh. The result is a quiet but boiling political thriller that explores the infuriating and ethically questionable enhanced interrogation tactics employed by the CIA following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The film’s title card is enough to illustrate exactly what kind of story we’ll be dealing with as the words “The Torture Report” appear on screen, only to have “torture” marked through as if it were redacted in a confidential government document. The Report is a thorough, almost clinical procedural following Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, a staff member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who has been tasked with looking into the enhanced interrogation tactics that were so famously and controversially utilized in the wake of the biggest terrorist attacks on American soil.

Spanning years, the film follows Jones as he tirelessly and resolutely attempts to complete this Herculean task, pouring over countless documents with a small staff in a concealed room somewhere in Washington DC. That might not sound like the most riveting premise, but it’s the subject matter that makes for a gripping narrative. As Jones unearths plenty of morally reprehensible decisions made by the CIA, including the two hired psychologists who kept pushing the idea that this method of interrogation was effective, we see the enhanced interrogation play out in such a cruel and brutal manner that you can’t help but cringe and shake your head in disbelief.

The Report has flairs of All the President’s Men and Spotlight, but it’s more dense with information. However, it’s made riveting thanks to a striking lead performance from Adam Driver. Through the film, Driver is mostly subtle and reserved, letting the evidence he finds speak for itself (and believe me, there’s plenty). But Driver flows through exposition, confidential documents and endless information like a knife through butter, and it doesn’t even need any flashy Aaron Sorkin touches to make it more palatable. That also makes his moments of genuine frustration and exasperated sarcasm that much more effective when they arise.

The Report Review - Annette Bening

But there wouldn’t even be an investigation if it wasn’t for Senator Dianne Feinstein, played phenomenally by Annette Bening, who is working wonders with the tiniest of skeptical smirks and piercing gazes. It’s a masterclass in how to play a prominent, real life figure without turning it into a dramatic Saturday Night Live impersonation. Bening gives the senator the same quiet confidence she has in congress, and it’s extremely effective.

Though these are the standout performances in The Report, this film also boasts an impressive ensemble cast – Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Corey Stoll, Jennifer Morrison, Maura Tierney, Matthew Rhys, Tim Blake Nelson, and Ben McKenzie all have a hand in this story, and while all do their job well, the real star here is the true story.

Even if you know this story from the headlines, having all the details neatly collected and packaged together is still infuriating. You’ll scoff in disbelief when you find out how much the government paid to the psychologists who claimed enhanced interrogation worked, despite the fact that they had to waterboard someone 183 times to find out something they already knew. You’ll shake your head when CIA higher-ups tout the idea of enhanced interrogation being legal, but only if it works. And you’ll be supremely frustrated when it seems like Dan Jones makes a breakthrough, only to have another roadblock thrown in front of him. Bureaucracy and politics becomes a greater villain than any blockbuster could offer.

What’s truly impressive is that writer/director Scott Z. Burns puts all these details on screen without making it feel like a high school lecture, and he even finds a way to make meetings in various kinds of conference rooms and offices visually appealing. Perhaps even more remarkable is The Report doesn’t even feel like a sleight from one side of the political aisle to the other, because both Democrats and Republicans are skewered in their poor management and mishandling of this stain on our nation’s history. It’s a compelling and provocative glimpse into a time when our country was so scared of another 9/11 that we forgot who we were.

The Report doesn’t yet have a release date.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10

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