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The Report
★★★★☆
First run Screening room

Boiling down the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report investigating the CIA's use of torture following the 9/11 attacks into an exciting and enlightening feature film is no small task. The report, compiled by Senate staffer Daniel Jones, covers more than a decade's worth of real-life political intrigue, and the story behind the creation of the report is even more complex and remote. But, in only his second film as a director, writer/producer Scott Z. Burns transforms the information contained in this dark chapter of US history into a suspenseful and deeply satisfying political procedural. Burns is best known for writing four films for Steven Soderbergh, including the director’s two weakest pictures, The Informant! (2009) and The Laundromat (which was released on Netflix at roughly the same time as The Report in 2019 and is easily one of the year’s worst movies). So it is all the more amazing that the aptly but forgettably named, The Report, is so damn good.

Adam Driver stars as Jones, a diligent, unmarried staffer selected by Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead investigations into the 2005 destruction of the CIA’s interrogation videotapes, and then into six million pages of related CIA materials. Jones and his team of six work tirelessly for years in a locked, windowless office in a secure CIA building. The movie's narrative shifts back and forth from the progress of Jones’s investigation, to scenes depicting what he learns about the workings of the Counterterrorist Center and the secret CIA "black sites" where detainees were tortured using “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were not only illegal and unethical but scientifically proven to be ineffective and even counter-productive.

Driver turns in yet another stellar performance as the fiercely committed public servant Jones, and Annette Bening is equally believable and effective as the well-known, long-serving Senator Feinstein. The magnificent supporting cast includes Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, and Jon Hamm, who all do magnificent work in small but key roles. This is not one of those overloaded docudramas determined to include every single real-life participant in the events it depicts. Burns only includes the characters required to get the information across effectively without taking too much time or artistic license.

Visually, this is not a great, hypnotic procedural like Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men or David Fincher’s Zodiac, but it does an excellent job of compacting and organizing the facts of the case it lays out. And that case is a critical one. More than anything I’ve seen, this film hammers home the folly of the Democratic Party’s obsession with “moving on” and not investigating, prosecuting, or even bringing to light the wrongdoings of the Republican Party. While congresspeople and pundits on the right constantly return to and hammer on the crimes, corruptions, and failures of their opponents (even long after something has been fully litigated, proven, or disproven), folks on the left always seem to want to put aside the recent wrongdoings of their colleagues on the other side of the aisle so they can all concentrate on a more positive future. 

This dangerous practice only enables repeated recurrence of wrongdoing, sometimes by the very same corrupt individuals who were not punished the first time. The Report covers many of the illegal activities of the Bush/Cheney administration, but it also shines a light on the greatest failure of the Obama presidency—the delusional belief that Obama could lead the country into a post-partisan era. “Hope” may have been an effective election campaign, Mr. President, but it was a foolish way to govern.

Twitter Capsule:
Burns and a first-rate cast create a surprisingly suspenseful and illuminating procedural from the US Senate's exhaustive probe into the CIA's post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program.

Directed by Scott Z. Burns
Produced by Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Kerry Orent, Michael Sugar, Danny Gabai, and Eddy Moretti

Written by Scott Z. Burns

With: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jennifer Morrison, Sarah Goldberg, T. Ryder Smith, Douglas Hodge, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Matthew Rhys, John Rothman, Scott Shepherd, and Jon Hamm

Cinematography: Eigil Bryld
Editing: Greg O'Bryant
Music: David Wingo

Runtime: 119 min
Release Date: 15 November 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color