The Report is one of those movies that old-school types may still say is "good enough for the theaters," but let's be real. Who is going to go carve time out of their night, schlep to the theater, then see something that sounds so much like homework it's actually called The Report?! This is a calmly paced, thoughtful, talky movie and, if you are a taxpaying American, it is going to make you feel bad when it's done. The marketplace for such masochism has ended! But on streaming, it's another matter. Because The Report -- out in select theaters now and coming to Amazon Prime Video on Nov. 29 -- is terrific.
Written and directed by frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns, this Adam Driver-led investigative drama is about uncovering the CIA's torture program in the war on terror. No, this isn't about Abu Ghraib, those horrible photos from an Iraqi prison that leaked in April 2004, though that's part of it. This is about how a group of outsourced bozos sold the United States government on a "system" of information retrieval that danced right on the edge of what is allowable under international law, and, most would agree, tripped over it a few times. What's worse is how there is still, to this day, absolutely no evidence that the horrific practices that happened in America's name ever resulted in actionable intelligence. The Report is such a tumultuous and intellectually pugnacious film, that it almost has you feeling sorry for Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.
Let's put aside the moral implication of whether or not it is right to feel sympathy for KSM (there are a lot of acronyms in The Report) and take a step back to recognize that, on the face of it, there is some remarkable filmmaking going on if a movie can make you feel that way. What rational person is going to puff out their chest and bellow "it's immoral!" when watching a guy like that get waterboarded? I don't know to what extent this particular turn is what drove Burns to make this film, but navigating this intellectual jungle gym is what I found most interesting. That and somehow making a movie about a guy who sat in a basement for years gripping.
Driver stars as Daniel Jones, a former (real) mid-level cog in the machine of government. I could never quite figure out what his job was other than "special assignments." Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening) selects him to look into the CIA's files, heading a bipartisan committee. She knows something is up and trusts Jones because he is fair, thorough, and cool-headed. Five years and 7,000 pages later, Jones comes out the other side a completely changed man.
It's something of a miracle there is any "movie" here at all. Early scenes include dialogue dumps between Driver and Bening. He hurls a pile of backstory concrete at her feet, she picks up one chip and says "are you telling me that this is important for a reason?" "Why yes, indeed," he responds. It's annoying. But it's worth getting through the beginning, I swear.
Once we get past the premise and into Jones' head, the drama can take hold. This is Adam Driver we're talking about, arguably the greatest actor of his generation, and to see him slowly lose his cool while running up against lies and bureaucracy is quite compelling. The Report employs flashbacks and the sequences of "enhanced interrogation techniques" are the most frightening horror scenes in a movie this year. If you didn't like Marilyn Manson before, you really won't now. The movie gets under your skin not so much because it is about the battle between good and evil or even East and West, but efficiency and bad management.
While I am sure it isn't true of everyone, The Report makes a good case that the CIA is run just like every other office: by a lot of lazy people more worried about pleasing their bosses than actually doing what's best in the long term. Oh, it's frustrating! Oh, it makes you wish someone would do something! Something more than... spending five years in a basement typing a 7,000-page report that, OK, I'll be honest, I kinda didn't even know existed before I saw this movie.
Luckily, laws aren't made by schmucks by me. Jones' report actually did change policy, and if you buy what Burns is selling, our world is a better place because of it. You can check out the movie to see if you agree with the politics (I'm sure there are many who won't!) but what's undeniable is the skill in Burns' storytelling and Driver's performance. You don't need 7,000 pages to see that.
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
The Report is in select theaters now, and heads to Amazon Prime Video on Friday, Nov. 29.