Here’s just what we need during a time when Americans have more than enough stories of political misbehavior thrown at them: another story of political misbehavior. Yes, that was a facetious remark, but an appropriate one for the frustrating, maddening tale that’s told in “The Report.”
It’s hard to believe, but we’re closing in on almost two decades since the horrific events of 9/11. Everyone knows about the front-page wars that grew out of the terrorist attacks, but there was a very different sort of reaction, too. There simply had to be. Unconscionable wrongs were committed against us that had to be righted. History has shown that a lot was going on in the shadows, under the radar, brought on by our own government. But much of it was heinous. And when it was questioned by other government figures who appeared to know right from wrong, it was covered up. In some cases, investigations were made difficult, in others, evidence was destroyed.
Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Contagion”) makes his feature directing debut with an extremely detailed, often dialogue-heavy, sometimes unwieldy look into some of what was happening in Washington in the post-9/11 days, after rumors surfaced concerning CIA torture of suspected terrorists.
It’s actually a very personal story, one that centers on Dan Jones (Adam Driver), an enthusiastic Senate staffer who was appointed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to investigate the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which applied various methods of torture to prisoners including waterboarding, facial slaps, cramped quarters, and “use of insects.”
The film makes it clear that Jones had a difficult job in front of him. If the CIA was guilty of illegal practices, they weren’t about to cooperate with anyone who was out to nail them. The agency had the power to “capture and detain” suspected terrorists, but was not given free rein to do whatever they wanted to get answers.
Or, asks the film, did Dick Cheney make it possible for them to do that? Is it true, the film again asks, that the CIA hired well-paid violence-prone psychologists who believed that enhanced interrogation was the only way to go? Did the CIA have secret meetings in which there were discussions on the differences between pain and severe pain?
These were questions Dan Jones and his committee were exploring, but were constantly coming up against CIA-constructed roadblocks. For instance, Jones wasn’t allowed to speak with anyone who was directly involved in the program.
It’s the kind of story that makes your blood boil, yet also the kind that you know needs to be out there. The CIA believed they were doing their job, that they were being patriotic. And they were. The terrorists were the enemy. We all know that. But the CIA overstepped their bounds, then tried to protect themselves. Sen. Feinstein simply wanted the truth, as did Jones. It’s a fascinating and important story.
Unfortunately, the film is overly complicated, and despite some excellent performances - Bening pulls off a great Feinstein, without mimicking her; Ted Levine is superb as CIA Director John Brennan - the script is too wordy, and the film is too dry. Even when tension is building, when scenes of torture at black sites are shown, and are followed by scenes of Jones finding out about different aspects of the torture, the film then cuts away to long sequences of people looking through files or sitting around talking about being exasperated by it all.
Even when enough proof of wrongdoing is found, the film’s next hurdle is to portray how difficult it was to get the “Torture Report” published, to let the American public in on what was really going on. And that part of the film is even grayer and duller than what preceded it.
“The Report” is spiced up with good use of archival footage, including glimpses of Dick Cheney, John Kerry, Barack Obama and even Rachel Maddow. But no matter how well-intentioned, it gets bogged down by all of that detail and never catches on fire.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written and directed by Scott Z. Burns
With Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm. Ted Levine