If you’re looking for faith in Washington D.C.; if you’re searching for a feel-good story of patriotism or a “ra ra ra” American moment, then hold your “USA” chants because writer-director Scott Z. Burns‘ The Report isn’t it. No, instead, you’re more likely to gnash your teeth as each morally reprehensible act floods across the screen. Still, you’ll also discover individuals who were bigger than the moment, bigger than their fears. The Report is a taut political procedural, giving us a lesser-known story to inform our larger governmental and moralistic world.
Burns’ film opens in media res, as Senate Staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) meets with a lawyer (Corey Stoll) to discuss relocated documents. While the film begins in 2011, the setting is temporary. Instead, we flashback to 2003 as Jones begins his time in Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening)’s office. There, he investigates the CIA’s brutal and dehumanizing post-9/11 “interrogation methods.” In short, he discovers full blown and illogical torture committed at the hands of the U.S. government.
We follow Jones as he forms what begins as a bi-partisan team of both Democrats and Republicans to investigate the intelligence agency. As the film progresses during its 5-year timeline, Jones’ team whittles down to three and then two. The Senate Staffer’s determined journey for the elusive truth behind the U.S.’s torture methods: specifically the agency’s reasoning and tactics, jumps from one terrorist to the next, from one brutal interrogation to the next.
Jones’ methodical investigation runs opposite to the reckless and myopic decision by the CIA to use “advanced-interrogation methods.” We find that the intelligence agency dolled out millions of dollars to faulty scientists in the hopes of finding the next big terror attack. The two “psychologists:” Jim Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) and Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith) would be comedic in their blind idiocy if it didn’t lead to humans — each with plausible guilt or innocence — being subjected to cruel and, ultimately, ineffective torture methods.
In his own way, there isn’t a role where Driver has shown as much anger as here. Even as Kylo Ren, another quiet and impulsive character, Driver doesn’t show as much rigor and emotion as Jones does when he’s perturbed by the facile and inscrutable nature of those he’s investigating. More so, he’s frustrated by the bureaucracy that confronts the truth. He doesn’t reserve his ire solely for the Bush administration, he also lambastes the Obama era as well. Burns’ film never gives an “out” to the fearful country that was America post-9/11, instead, presenting an argument where a powerful and moral country should never succumb to such fears.
But most impressively, is how Driver can run roughshod with binders of heavy information, while distilling these factoids in a never say breathe deliverance that is at once understandable and compelling. Even as Driver’s anger builds in certain scenes, along with David Wingo‘s near-deafening score, he skirts along the edges of the unhinged. The entirety of his performance is truly incredible.
Not to be outdone, Annette Bening also commands some compelling screen time. She embodies all of Feinstein’s mannerisms and vocal inflections. But Bening is at her most impressive in the space between the words. Her character rarely displays the inner-machinations of her mind, unlike Jones who never hides what he’s thinking. So much of Bening’s sharp performance hinges on a sigh, a gaze, a nervous shake of the head. She imparts as much emotional information as Driver does verbally.
Burns’ The Report, which also includes a stellar cast of Jon Hamm, Maura Tierney, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, etc. will probably have you more angry with the U.S. government than ever before. However, it will also give you solace that there are still people — within this feckless body — who still retain some sort of moral compass, and the courage and tenacity to excise their elected and appointed responsibilities.