Austin Film Festival 2019: ‘The Report’ Bring’s the US’s Dark Past to the Big Screen

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Report

Directed by Scott Z. Burns and produced by Amazon Studios, The Report stars Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, an idealistic staffer who is tasked by his boss Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program created in the aftermath of 9/11. A political thriller based on real-life events, The Report follows Daniel as he pursues the truth in the face of insurmountable odds. He decides to work non-stop to find and share the truth while others give up and attempt to stop him.

For Daniel, bringing his explosive findings to light and uncovering a conspiracy by top government officials to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a brutal secret from the American public is the top priority. Working as a part of the committee to investigate the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” (read torture) used by the CIA after 9-11, Daniel reports directly to Senator Feinstein.

While the last act of the film focuses on their push to have the report brought to light and culminates in the iconic senate floor reading of the small synopsis of the thousand-plus page report that Daniel created, the first two acts work to show the brutality of the CIA, the apathy of US leaders to the bodily harm of those they deem evil, and ultimately, the bureaucratic roadblocks that exist solely to hide the truth.

As we move through life, we pay attention to scandals – to stories covered in bright lights, and sadly, we only focus on the headlines, not digging deeper. One way to push away this nature is to give the audience a little bit of sugar to help the medicine go down. Instead of playing a recording of Senator Feinstein reciting the report summary or of Senator McCain, you invite audiences into a theater with a leading man from one of the largest franchises in history and you give them a history lesson.

The Report

In 2010, I entered undergraduate school dead set on entering the intelligence field. I took Arabic and crafted my courses around fulfilling that goal. Then, I started paying attention in my classes, seeing what we did as a country beyond what was shared by the people in power and I started to do a double-take. It wasn’t until we started being recruited by agencies for internships that I decided to part ways with a potential future as an analyst.

When I graduated in 2014, ready to enter grad school, the full torture report came out and I was glued to all sources of information I could find on it. What I didn’t realize was that many people, especially the students I had begun teaching. It’s the oblivious nature that makes a film like The Report vital.

The Report is a retelling of history that uses the beats of a spy-thriller to build tension, inverting the narrative by beginning at the end before cutting back to the beginning and following the years-long process of discovery. The film uses this discovery to not only showcase the many trials, documents, and human rights violations but to also showcase Daniel’s dedication to the truth. This results in a path from detachment to emotional connection, to empathy. It’s ultimately Daniel’s relentless push and his dedication to looking at the data as people and not just data that led to the work coming out.

Driver’s performance is solid and captivating. Additionally, Bening’s portrayal of Feinstein is well done, nailing the real Feinstein’s voice and cadence. But what is the most impactful is The Report’s decision to show the torture read about in the CIA documents that makes the audience confront the crimes that our country did in the name of “defense” and ultimately how we turned a blind eye and many sadly continue to defend. The CIA’s brutality is on full display.

From sleep deprivation to waterboarding, The Report shows the injury, the trauma, and yes, the death dealt at the hands of the U.S. while also showcasing the ignorance of the “scientists” behind the torture methods. In the scenes highlighting the latter, the film goes to great lengths to show how the two men behind the torture designs were so desperate for notoriety, to assert themselves, that they reached beyond their knowledge to play out a fantasy that harmed, traumatized, and murdered people.

The scenes with the two architects of the torture are aggravating. While their ineptitude adds moments of humor, that humor is used to push you into anger as you begin to see how out of their “evidence” for the technique’s success is no more than fabrication. The torture works when they decide that it does, moving the goalposts of success to fit their own narrative. Additionally, the CIA, while playing the roles as heartless torturers, is also painted as an organization desperate to hide their failures behind any manipulation they can. The way The Report spotlights the agency also puts their ignorance at the forefront.

The Report

Perhaps, in our current climate, the film’s true meaning – its real message, isn’t so much about calling out the U.S. on its past but presenting a look at the future. It isn’t a democratic system that brought the Torture Report to light. Instead, it was one whistleblower dedicated to surfacing the truth. While the senators read his words to the world, we know that the truth remains hidden without him. The thousands upon thousands of raw documents given were meant to make Daniel give up. Instead, he parsed it all. He worked through it all: the disturbing, the enraging, and even the mundane to uncover the truth.

While the film shows Feinstein’s contributions to getting the report out, it’s Daniel who continually pushes her to act against her own interests and bring it forth. Like Chicanos in California know, Feinstein plays it safe when reelection comes up or the numbers aren’t in her favor. Her record shows, like when she refused to oppose Proposition 187 that targeted immigrants, specifically California’s Latinx and Chicano communities, until the moment before the vote.

With the impeachment of Donald Trump in the works thanks to whistleblowers, The Report is a story that shows the power of one individual even against insurmountable odds. While it shines a light on the darkness of our country’s past, it also gives us a look at a possible future – one of justice. The Report is an intense historical thriller and a needed film for the times.

The Report debuts in select theaters on November 15th.

Rating: 9/10

The Report
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The Report is a story that shows the power of one individual even against insurmountable odds. While it shines a light on the darkness of our country’s past, it also gives us a look at a possible future – one of justice. The Report is an intense historical thriller and a needed film for the times.