Uncovering the CIA’s torture coverup

The Report - Still 1
Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) takes on the task of investigating the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in The Report.

By Richard Ades

About three-quarters of the way through The Report, I had a sudden urge to re-watch Z. Like Costa-Gavras’s 1969 political thriller, the new film is about a dogged effort to uncover a vast, bureaucratic lie.

Written and directed by Scott C. Burns, The Report is based on an actual congressional investigation into the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the post-9/11 war on terrorism. Adam Driver stars as Daniel Jones, who in 2007 is hired by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead the investigation.

It proves to be a slow and nearly impossible task. Because the CIA is offering minimal cooperation, Jones’s team must uncover the evidence one piece at a time by looking through the records surrounding terrorist suspects who fell into the agency’s custody. All the while, team members are assaulted with the charge that they’re being unpatriotic.

Torture was necessary, officials tell them, in order to save lives by uncovering terrorist plots before they could be carried out. But as the years pass, Jones begins gathering evidence that torture was actually ineffective and even counterproductive.

Unlike the exciting, sometimes satirical Z, The Report is filmed in a low-key docudrama style that takes us step-by-step through Jones’s search for the truth. It takes breaks from that search only in the form of painful flashbacks to the years when suspects were subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture supposedly based on scientific research.

The Report (2019)
Jon Hamm as White House chief of staff Denis McDonough

Through it all, Driver makes Jones a stalwart figure whose commitment to the investigation begins to resemble obsession. Even more interesting is Bening’s Feinstein, who is being pulled in two ways. She clearly wants to uncover the truth, but she is being pressured by the Obama administration—as represented by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm)—to let the CIA keep its secrets. After all, the last thing the Democrats need is to be accused of being soft on terrorism.

The resulting clash between conscience and political expediency creates a dramatically satisfying tale that’s also a fascinating piece of history.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

The Report (rated R) opens Nov. 15 at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.

Misconceived romcom may appeal to Wham! fans

Last Christmas
Things start looking up for Kate (Emilia Clarke) after she meets Tom (Henry Golding) in Last Christmas. (Universal Studios)

By Richard Ades

Take the trappings of a romcom, add a dash of A Christmas Carol, set the tale in a festively lit-up London and fill the soundtrack with a whole bunch of George Michael songs. What you end up with is a holiday movie that’s guaranteed to appeal to—well, George Michael fans.

It’s hard to see who else would be attracted to the gauzy, glittery confection known as Last Christmas. Especially after the flick throws in a last-minute twist that is likely to please no one.

Co-written and produced by Emma Thompson, the story centers on Kate (the lovable Emilia Clarke), a young woman who is spiraling downward for no reason that is immediately apparent.

Maybe it’s because she works as an “elf” in a Christmas-themed store but really wants to be an actor. Or maybe it’s because she can’t stand being around her mother (Thompson), who insists on singing downbeat songs from their native Yugoslavia.

Then again, the store is run by a Chinese immigrant named Santa (Michelle Yeoh) who is supportive and patient even when Kate screws up. And her mother is a kind woman whose main fault is doting on her wayward daughter. So what is Kate’s problem?

Eventually, it comes out that her doldrums began after a health crisis that would have killed her if she hadn’t received a heart transplant. But again, it’s not quite clear why the ordeal has left her feeling depressed rather than lucky to be alive.

No matter. Things start looking up after Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a buoyant stranger who encourages her, literally, to start looking up—the better to discover overhead surprises she otherwise would have missed. She quickly grows to love this mysterious stranger who seems too good to be true.

Uh-oh. If you’re a romcom fan, you’ll know that can only mean their relationship is about to hit a snag, though it’s probably not the kind you envisioned.

Last Christmas is directed by Paul Feig, who helmed 2011’s entertaining Bridesmaids and 2016’s disappointing Ghostbusters. Here, he compounds the script’s problems by turning London into a sparkling wonderland where even homelessness is a joyful experience. He also stops the action frequently for perky music video-style montages. None of this helps us to understand miserable Kate or her need for a savior like Tom.

London, of course, was the setting for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the classic tale of a miser who finally learns that the purpose of life is to help others. Last Christmas tries to teach a similar lesson, but it mostly gets buried under the glut of glitz, jollity and George Michael tunes.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Last Christmas (PG-13) opens Nov. 8 at theaters nationwide.