Watched on Amazon Prime, Jan. 3rd, 2020
Director – Scott Z Burns
Starring – Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Corey Stoll, Michael C Hall, Tim Blake Nelson
Riding the Adam Driver wave, I decided to watch the political drama The Report. After the opening frames, it sets the stage, late Bush early Obama presidencies, and the slant, hard left. An interview between Adam Driver and Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, Million Dollar Arm) is explained to be up and coming political analyst Daniel Jones’ (Driver) first attempt at getting a job on the Hill for Senator Tom Daschle, who Denis McDonough (Hamm) is currently representing. This quickly and simply establishes the setting for the film. From there we jump to the moment Daniel Jones had worked for, a position as the lead investigator on the Senate Intelligence Committee working for Chairwoman and Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, American Beauty). The film starts with Jones and his team charged to investigate the methods and results of CIA interrogations in the War on Terror.
The Bush years have been the target of a few films in recent memory and The Report touches on some familiar themes. However, it’s more concerned with the utter soulless nature of the DC machine. Scenes of CIA agents torturing prospective terrorists give life to the somewhat innocuous stretches of Jones and others discussing the events. At one point, in a particularly meta-moment, Jones sits annoyed as the opening of Oscar-winning CIA torture film Zero Dark Thirty plays on a TV he’s watching.
Driver’s performance is compelling and understated. He plays Jones as someone comfortably smarter than the other people in the room but not driven to share that fact. He is a little obsessive but human rights are a good thing to obsess over, right? As the wheels start to fall off for Jones and his pet project, the titular Report, the importance of what’s in the nearly thousand-page tome takes front and center.
“…more of a reenactment than a film…”
Questions about oversight, legal precedence, the difference between “us” and “them,” political machinations, and transparency are all presented in a fairly moderate manner by not letting anyone off the hook. Ted Levine’s (The Silence of the Lambs) presentation of CIA director John Brennan is not quite the clown show recent interpretations of political leaders have been (see Vice) but has all the lack of integrity and sliminess you could ask for in a political punching bag. The writing was on the whole pretty smooth although Feinstein’s character did have some really awkward moments of exposition that I thought was odd but could be more realistic than I’d like to think.
Where the movie faltered was the structure. My in-the-moment review was “more of a reenactment than a film.” What I meant by that was each scene felt less about discovering what would happen next and more about a glimpse into a moment in time. There is very little development of characters, very little plot, almost no drama – real or contrived – instead simply a record of events. Admittedly, I would have been annoyed if Burns would’ve obviously fabricated dramatic challenges for Jones to overcome.
The conclusion of the movie, highlighted by actual footage of the late Senator John McCain’s speech stumping for the McCain-Feinstein Act was a powerful moment. Without it, even with Jones’ seeming victory over the meddling CIA and political apathy, the lasting impression is helplessness. If someone so brilliant as Daniel Jones, with so much evidence and so much clarity can’t get even a sympathetic administration to take action, how could anything change? The movie wasn’t full of particularly beautiful or poignant moments but it kept a decent pace and managed to keep my interest. I will admit, I’m probably a tad more interested in this kind of subject matter than perhaps the average movie-goer would be.