As the American political system continues to devolve to tribalism, it’s often refreshing to remember that there are people within the trenches of power who continue to fight for a more perfect union not only for institutional but moral reasons. The Report is such a feel-good story, one where a near-anonymous bureaucrat toils in a windowless bunker for years, parsing millions of pages of documents, to generate a report that tells the truth about how the U.S. engaged in state-sponsored torture.
Crafted as a political drama akin to All the President’s Men, the film by Scott Z. Burns casts Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, the author of the U.S. Senate’s “Torture Report” that outlines atrocities committed during the Iraq War. Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, and Tim Blake Nelson round out the cast, with the supremely talented Annette Bening playing Senator Dianne Feinstein with aplomb. With Steven Soderbergh attached as producer, this drama ripped from the headlines makes for a thrilling, provocative look at a recent period of American history.
Burns does well to distill the dry, procedural elements to give a sense of heightened drama. Driver’s task is to inject passion and intensity, two things he’s exceptional at. For the sake of drama, he’s forced to do a bunch of yelling, raising the stakes of a given scene likely at the expense of verisimilitude. I found these outbursts counterproductive. The subject matter is compelling enough without histrionics, but it’s likely a wise decision to capture the interest of a general audience.
Unlike Vice, a recent movie takes a sardonic look at such affairs, Burns and his collaborators explicitly draw attention to the cancer that continues to plague the American system.
As near history, the film’s greatest strength lays in making comprehensible the missteps that led to the grand abuse, behaviors stoked by fear and fueled by the felling of the Twin Towers. Understanding it all doesn’t exonerate anyone, of course, and the balance between those responsible and the current role they play in criticizing the newest administration gives another punch to the film.
While far from flawless, The Report nonetheless does an admirable job of spotlighting a particularly complicated period of American history, and making heroes of a group that toiled to tell the truth. While a deep documentary surely would have been more erudite and informative, as a way of drawing people into this story, Burns’ film does a good job of swaying opinion and reminding us just how tenuous our institutions are if gone unchecked. This lesson, above all, is as important now as it has ever been.