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.
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.