By Andrea Thompson
“The Report” has much in common with its lead, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), and that will make the movie worse for some. The movie is hell-bent on showing us the very ugly wrongs in our quite recent history for one simple, yet difficult reason. It wants us to remember, to learn from it rather than forget, in order to prevent it from happening again. Yet it discusses torture and terrorism in perhaps the most boring way possible – slowly and surely building a case by combing through paperwork.
The decade of political intrigue covered in the Senate committee investigation that “The Report” uses for its source material kicks off with Jones getting involved in politics and the fight against terrorism after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After he becomes a staffer for Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), he’s tasked with delving into the records of CIA interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, quickly becoming appalled not only by what he found, but how ineffective, and thus unnecessary, all this cruelty was.
As Daniel pursues the investigation throughout the years, “The Report” likewise carefully builds a case as to just how all this occurred in the first place. The attacks on 9/11 loom over all, creating a climate of fear in which the CIA was determined to prevent another strike, regardless of the human cost. Combine that with a hugely increased budget, a lack of accountability, and a barely acknowledged prejudice against an enemy whose mindset was so alien to our own, and various agencies soon dug themselves into a hole of their own making, one where they needed to believe in the methods that were continuously proving to be ineffective.
Daniel’s personal life is barely mentioned, let alone shown. But thanks to Adam Driver’s committed performance, the movie doesn’t feel like it’s too much the lesser for it. Driver embodies the kind of stubborn, committed idealist who most believe doesn’t exist in our government. His motivations are of the simplest kind. A wrong has been committed that violates not only his code, but that of the country he loves, and he’s determined to right it by the most ethical means he can. And that means avoiding shortcuts like leaking his materials to the media.
The fact that the CIA was torturing people was something of an open secret, one the American public accepted with varying degrees of reluctance. But the CIA and the government had help in making their case, with “The Report” dropping verbal and visual references to media such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and not just the TV series “24,” but its protagonist Jack Bauer. Yet “The Report” does something far bolder than most of its action-obsessed cohorts by focusing on prisoners who are clearly guilty of something. That they are reprehensible is not in doubt, but the movie makes us realize their humanity by focusing on the grisly interrogation methods and the vulnerability of those who were victimized.
“The Report” doesn’t much acknowledge just how much racism played a role in what happened, but it also almost seems to seethe, in its own understated fashion, against giving ground to the argument of torture being a necessary evil. If by the end it hopes that some lessons are learned, there’s not much sign of the perpetrators being punished. What little hope it has to offer is that the ugly history we are forced to face can somehow be prevented.