Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Report

The Report is one of a number of movies released in 2019, most of them based on true stories, centered around an idealistic protagonist uncovering a dark truth and struggling to bring it to light. Our hero is Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) who is chosen by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead an investigation into the CIA's detention program, and the enhanced interrogation techniques they deployed, following the attacks on September 11, 2001. What he discovers is shocking and disgusting, as is the CIA's work to discredit the report and make sure the truth never sees the light of day.

The events depicted in the film are less shocking today then when they were disclosed, but writer/director Scott Z. Burns does fashion this version of Jones as the vessel for the outrage over what was done in the name of freedom as well as a singular source to document and describe many of the flaws with the CIA's methods that, after all was said and done, produced very little in actionable intelligence. While Jones is obviously Burns' hero, Senator Feinstein is a bit harder for him to nail down (especially given her late waffling against the opposition to the report).

The script often talks about the cost of the investigation on Jones, but we see little evidence on-screen. (This man had a girlfriend at one point? Really? I see little evidence of this.) He's basically the same guy at the end of the movie as at the beginning. Nor does the film really tackle the complex political effects of the release the report Jones spent years working on. Burns takes a hard black and white view of events. What was done was wrong and to continue to hide the truth from Americans does even more harm. The flashbacks to the actual torture, whether or not they are in good taste, help frame the argument that both Burns and Jones are making throughout the course of the film.

Criticizing both the Bush administration for its lack of oversight on the program and Obama for not backing the report's findings, in what were told was a bit of a lame duck attempt at bipartisanship, along with calling out the entire CIA for lying about the program (including their own internal audit which came to the same conclusion and Jones), there are no scarcity of villainous dragons for Jones to slay. Although informative, the film does fail in finding a way to make the story moving (even through the use of the flashbacks). The scope of what was done, which lacks a single smoking gun or A-HA! moment, is simply too much to boil down in two hours and frame as anything more than a list of grievances. The result is a solid, but necessarily all that memorable, film.

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