The document referred to in the title of “The Report” weighed in at more than 6,700 pages. I guess we can forgive the movie for being a little wordy.
The report in question is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study on U.S. use of torture, a document that exhaustively investigated the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program during the George W. Bush presidency.
Our guide through this world is Daniel Jones, the Intelligence Committee staffer and former FBI agent who led the inquiry. Jones is played by Adam Driver, who brings his Everyman simplicity to the role.
The film, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, has a difficult task. Jones is essentially sifting through information for the duration of the story; how to make this paper-shuffling compelling on screen?
That question is not always answered, although we get re-creations of some torture sessions, Powerpoint shows with torture techniques, and plenty of veiled (and no so veiled) threats against Jones’ investigation.
Too much of the dialogue consists of large blocks of exposition, telling us what we need to know to get from Point A to Point B. If this movie wants to be another “All the President’s Men,” it fails to find the drumbeat of discovery that makes information exciting.
“The Report” does get into interesting territory with its portrait of a Senate that must balance countless political considerations before anybody takes action.
This is especially pertinent in the case of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, played with cautious calculation by Annette Bening. Feinstein hires Jones and is clearly sympathetic to the idea of exposing the torture program, but hems and haws along the way because the release of the report could affect entirely unrelated Senate business.
The cast also includes Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Ted Levine and Jon Hamm as various players in the saga. Some real-life characters are not played by actors, but exist in TV footage, which blurs the line between drama and documentary in a useful way.
Even if the movie generally lacks dramatic oomph, the story is obviously an important one. Thanks in part to Driver’s committed performance, we never lose awareness that something urgent and tragic is at play. Presumably “The Report” will serve as an introduction to the subject for future generations, and maybe that’s all the filmmakers wanted.
One of the real-life people we glimpse in TV footage is John McCain, the senator who knew about torture from first-hand experience. He said the report’s revelations proved that torture practices “not only failed their purpose … but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”
In a movie full of words, maybe those should be the final ones.