One of the most tiresome habits of modern film marketing and discourse is the obsession with timeliness. Every “serious” release has to be related to Trump or Brexit or MeToo, even if the connection is painfully tenuous. One of the things that makes Scott Z. Burns’s excellent The Report so refreshing is that it makes no such attempts. This is an intellectually rigorous and satisfyingly furious look at how America’s intelligence institutions have always been monstrous, enabled in the last 20 years by the inhumanity of Cheney, the ignorance of Bush, and the cowardice of Obama.
Zipping back and forth between Daniel Jones’ (Adam Driver) arduous task of writing the Torture Report and the torture itself in the aftermath of 9/11, Burns’ script tackles the dark heart of fear, careerism, and sadism in the CIA. It’s riveting, enraging stuff, presented frankly and without melodrama. Burns revels in the way language is used to dehumanise and sanitise, creating a Washington DC full of villains who simply cannot conceive of their own moral failings.
Mostly stoic, Driver shines both in his quiet moments and his explosions of rage, and while Annette Bening initially seems underserved as report overseer Senator Dianne Feinstein, later setbacks give her a dignified fury that is compelling. The Report is also surprisingly funny in places, especially when it fires shots at torture-glorifying films and shows like Zero Dark Thirty and 24. It does run a little too long, but Burns builds his story carefully, aided immensely by pitch-perfect casting.
Though the journalistic thriller is often a genre that’s too dry to really entertain, The Report avoids such pitfalls with powerful performances, a punchy script, and an admirable courage in its bipartisan convictions. Cinematic indictments of American politics are hardly a rarity, but ones with this much wit and oomph are.
CAST: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Ted Levine, Douglas Hodge, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney
DIRECTOR: Scott Z. Burns
WRITER: Scott Z. Burns
SYNOPSIS: Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.