The Report Review
The political drama has been a staple of cinema, holding up a lens to the past in a way that, with the benefit of hindsight, we may be able to analyse and discuss more thoroughly. Scott Z. Burns’ The Report, or The Torture [redacted] Report, takes a look at a period of time that for many is still a raw emotional wound; the time after the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.
Senate staff member Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) conducts an investigation at the behest of Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) into the use of torture, 'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques' on suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, whether such acts were ethical and whether the extreme methods actually saved anyone. Jones becomes consumed by a fierce sense of justice as he discovers more about what happened, while there are people within the government who will do anything to stop the investigation from being made public.
The moral quandary at the centre of The Report is one of accountability and justification. Can torture ever be the right course of action, even if it prevents horrible atrocities? It’s the type of question that there are no easy answers to. And then, if it doesn’t actually prevent anything how can you justify it? Director and writer Burns has previously collaborated with Steven Soderbergh and there is definitely a mark of Soderbergh’s influence in the direction here to approach that discussion. The scenes set in the “present” of Jones’ investigation are relatively clean and static, apart from a few pans or tracking shots, which highlights the very down to earth and Docudrama feel of the film.
The flashbacks to the events of EITs being used have an orange-brown tint to them and primarily use shaky-cam to an effect of being a bit more gritty to match the harrowing torture scenes which display severe violations of human rights as well as feeling more like raw footage. The people in charge of The Program, as it is called, have a clear stance of by any means necessary, even when those means seem to be dubious at best and abhorrent at worst. Then when the EITs don’t give them the results they want they alter the results to better reflect their agenda and prevent further torture from being questioned. Their behaviour speaks to the fervour of jingoism that gripped American post 9/11. It is both fascinating and a little horrifying to see the lengths that are gone to by the people to protect themselves and their actions, but that also just makes the importance of Jones’ work that much more vital to the viewer.
Adam Driver really is what, ahem, drives the film as Daniel Jones. Apart from the flashbacks, he is in just about every scene and as such has a lot of weighty moments and dialogue to carry. He pulls it off with seemingly effortless presence and sincerity. His righteous fury and faith in justice is genuinely soul-stirring, even as his behaviour dips into obsessive and you have to wonder what, if anything, this extensive work is going to achieve. One thing which is an interesting parallel is in an early scene Jones mentions that when 9/11 happened he changed his college courses to political focussed ones, not unlike how Driver himself joined the Marine Corps shortly after the attacks.
Annette Bening is a solid support as Senator Dianne Feinstein, although a lot of her function in the story is to sit there while Driver gives a long speech about his findings, pause, then says “So…” and proceed to sum up everything he just said. The supporting cast of characters played by John Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Michael C. Hall and Ted Levine make for a strong opposition trying to suppress Jones’ report. One has to wonder if it’s out of a sense of truly believing what happened was justified, or if it is merely to cover themselves from any punishment. Tim Blake Nelson is also in attendance as someone directly involved with The Program who breaks ranks in talking to Jones. He is very good, but his appearance is all too brief.
The Report may finish in a place that may feel unsatisfying for some, but it’s only as far as the outcome of the real events were. It achieves in making a firm point about how the guilty will often go unpunished, but still with a belief in the idea that people can do better. Whether we actually have done so in the intervening years is up to you to decide for yourself.