The Report Movie Review: A Story That Needs to Be Told

Written by Ram Venkat Srikar

When we see a film or documentary which closely observes a real person or an incident, recollecting thoughts and summoning them in words, nonchalantly turns into our personal take on the subject. I believe it’s one of the attributes of a good film dealing with such subjects, and The Report is one such addition to that unseen list.

Four minutes into the film, Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) answers the question, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Run for office?” with “No. No politics for me. I think I’ll be more effective behinds the scenes, somewhere I can really make a difference.” This provides a comprehensive description of the character whom we will be following and the rest of the film only emphasizes and underlines it.

The Report is based on Katherine Eban’s article, “Rorschach and Awe”, published by Vanity Fair in July ’07. The article talked about how scientifically unproven methods of psychology were used against suspected terrorists who were detained post 9/11. While the CIA calls them “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, it’s a polished name for inhumane torture. And the film follows Jones, who was assigned to prepare a report on these methods and their utter failure to obtain any information that could safeguard the nation, as opposed to CIA’s claims of calling the project a huge success.

9/11 is one of the most sensitive topics to make a film about; such is the grittiness, emotion, and loss associated with it. But when you make a film that’s against the CIA, an organization that is committed to protecting its people, the chances are high that the film will be perceived to be against the whole country. It is a courageous step writer/director Scott Z. Burns took to put an (almost) neutral outlook of the entire investigation. At least for the first half of the film, the writer gives us space to think that CIA and the psychologists who designed the torture methods might be just performing their duty, and they could be sincere government workers. But gradually, as Dan starts digging, the sincerity slowly washes away, and they are painted evil.

It is evident with the usage of flashbacks majorly in the first and second act, where every time the film cuts back to the interrogation, the colour palette is dark, tinted in yellow, creating an environment that oozes claustrophobia, mercilessness, and helplessness just like the psychologists wanted to. And when the narrative shifts to the present, the colours are bright and cold, signifying the amount of hatred that was behind these men and women having civilized conversations about barbaric activities. I’m not the one saying this, the actual report called “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” does.

Spanning over a decade, the screenplay chronicles what Jones had to go through to make the report public. And if you choose to view it that way, it can also be an underdog story. When Jones begins his investigation, he is allotted workspace in a basement. Most of the team is taken away, and by the end, he is the only who sticks. And we get to know very little about Jones, the person. We never see him at his house, not once. He is always working. Even when he is on a morning run, he ends up discussing work with people he runs into, literally. Is it because Jones, the human doesn’t matter if this investigation isn’t a part of his life? Is he just another one in the Senate staff, who never makes headlines? I guess so. Although we are never told or shown his personal life, his response to what he uncovers paints a picture of his personality. The film celebrates an ordinary worker who did remarkable work that revealed some horrendous truth that still is a stain on the history of the CIA.

Another person the film studies in-depth is Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Benning), under whom Jones works. Feinstein is equally concerned about her political career and the importance of this report. Thus, we know she is not a social worker but a politician, a good one. She is the only one who continues supporting Jones throughout, like a mother-figure. Backed by an incredible performance, Adam Driver perfectly brings out the non-physical angst of the person he is playing. Four-time Academy Award nominee Benning proves why she is one of the best in the business.

The Report is a heroic story where the hero is not on the battlefield shooting enemies but sits at a desk with a computer and does the same. It is a story that needs to be told and seen.

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