Movies & TV / Reviews

The Report Review

November 24, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Report
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
The Report Review  

Directed By: Scott Z. Burns
Written By: Scott Z. Burns
Runtime: 119 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture, and language

Adam Driver – Daniel Jones
Annette Bening – Senator Dianne Feinstein
Jon Hamm – Denis McDonough
Corey Stoll – Cyrus Clifford
Maura Tierney – Bernadette
Michael C. Hall – Thomas Eastman
Linda Powell – Macy Morris
Ted Levine – John Brennan
Jennifer Morrison – Caroline Krass
Scott Shepherd – Senator Mark Udall
Fajer Al-Kaisi – Ali Soufan
Tim Blake Nelson – Raymond Nathan

Scott Z. Burns presents a dramatic look at Daniel J. Jones’s investigation into the post-9/11 enhanced interrogation program by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Committee. Essentially, the CIA was enacting state-sponsored torture on suspects during the war on terror. Daniel J. Jones (Driver) is the Senate investigator assigned to report on how the CIA enabled illegal torture on terror suspects, while political opponents, rivals, and the CIA are fighting his efforts every step of the way.

Daniel Jones spent years compiling evidence and exploring the grimy underbelly of the CIA and the brutal, immoral torture against suspects, which did not lead to actionable intelligence. Even after George W. Bush leaves the White House, allies of the CIA and the Obama Administration are staunch in fighting against the release of Jones’ investigation, fearing it would embarrass or expose the worst offenders.

Throughout the narrative, Scott Z. Burns switches perspective to the CIA after 9/11. There’s a sense that the brass in charge felt pressured to produce results and avoid further embarrassment after the terror attacks on US soil. Daniel Jones and his team blow open how the CIA enacted a torture program by using sketchy legal definitions of the term. Suspects are held without due process. Not to mention, the CIA gave free reign on the program to Air Force psychologists, who had absolutely no hands-on experience dealing with terror suspects or interrogation. There’s an interesting example of CIA bureaucracy and nonsensical red tape, as they get annoyed by the involvement of Ali Soufan (Al-Kaisi), who uses more humane techniques on suspects. The CIA then reasserts its control over terror operations overseas and enacts its “enhanced interrogation program.”

During Daniel Jones’ years-long investigation, he must navigate an ambiguous political scheme. His boss, Senator Feinstein (Bening), is supportive of his investigation, but even she has to be delicate with her handling of the situation as she seeks reelection. Essentially, Feinstein has to worry about her political reputation. Meanwhile, Obama Whitehouse Chief of Staff Denis McDonough sides with the CIA Director John Brennan (Levine) regarding trying to bury Jones’ investigation and redacting condemning information.

The Report is led by a spirited and strong performance by Scott Z. Burns as Daniel Jones. Burns frames Jones as an underdog, unyielding in his quest to finish his report and get it released to the public, no matter the political cost. There are talented veterans littered throughout the cast, who are solid and believable. Bening is a very good Dianne Feinstein.

Burns does present an unflinching look at the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” which was really just a fancy way of dressing up what was, in fact, state sponsored torture. The CIA and its allies argue that the program yielded significant results, including the finding and elimination of Osama Bin Laden, which the film frames as the tipping point to win Obama the 2012 Presidential Election. Burns does a good job of presenting a stacked deck against Jones. He’s not only fighting against the will of the White House and CIA, but also at times the Democratic party, the House Intelligence Committee and even his own boss as he gets closer to the truth.

Without getting into a major political debate, Scott Z. Burns glosses over the government’s switch in focus from enhanced interrogation to drone strikes after the switchover in the Executive Branch. That came off as rather disingenuous with the way the film presents its moral stance. If the action of torturing suspects and prisoners is immoral, one can argue that a cavalcade of drone strikes leading to significant civilian casualties and deaths are also morally questionable. The film pays lip service to Obama Administration drone strikes and civilian casualties throughout the film, but the issue is not pushed further. If anything, this could have served for a more interesting juxtaposition and look at the priorities of the different political eras. Perhaps a dramatic presentation, looking over the US drone strike program, could make for similar compelling subject matter.

Burns’ script is rather disjointed at times. It jumps back and forth tracking the birth of the interrogation program after 9/11. The transitions back in time are sometimes jarring. The scenes set in the past timeline, when the focus moves away from Daniel Jones and his investigation, are on the bland side. These scenes come off more like a clinical docudrama rather than a political thriller based on true events. They don’t really leap off the screen and capture the audience’s attention. When The Report moves back to Jones driving the investigation forward, the story has more bite.

The narrative is a bit overwrought in its start with a giant flashback setup. The film features flashbacks within flashbacks. Any time a movie has multiple flashbacks within flashbacks, it starts to get overdone. The film begins with Jones’ visit to his lawyer, Cyrus Clifford (Stoll). Jones recounts that he leaked a major piece of his report, which has put a target on his back. This part really didn’t need to be presented at the beginning of the film, as it hurts the narrative flow. Burns shows his hand a little too early.

Despite its flaws, The Report is a solid political drama led by a strong, surprisingly charismatic performance by Adam Driver. It’s an interesting look at the sketchy political situation in Washington, DC over the course of two administrations and an underdog who simply wants to present the facts to the public.

The final score: review Good
The 411
The Report is an interesting look at the investigation into the CIA torture program spearheaded by investigator Daniel Jones. Adam Driver puts in a strong performance as Jones. However, a disjointed narrative, featuring some overly clinical and bland scenes, sometimes hampers the film. When The Report focuses more on Jones and his findings, the film it truly finds its groove.