The Report finds Adam Driver in fantastic form, yet brings a boiling issue down to a half-hearted simmer.
Political thrillers tend to go in one of two directions. They either 1) focus on the wartime efforts of those out in the field of duty or 2) hone in on the legislative specifics and maneuvering of those in positions of power. The Report leans into number two to varies results.
Written and directed by Scott Burns, The Report focuses on an investigation led by a small team of people into the CIA’s torture techniques within its interrogation program after 9/11. Burns tells this story through the sacrifice and shocking perseverance of one man: Daniel Jones, played by Adam Driver in a performance more subtle than expected.
Jones leads this investigation helmed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening being Annette Bening and that’s a good thing in this case). He uncovers the drastic measures the CIA took to get information from prisoners and the inhumane tactics of torture they used. The first hour of the film explores this torture, with an intensity that can only be described as palpable. Burns doesn’t spare the audience, forcing you to watch this torture in short bursts, which are sure to upset even the casual viewer.
The content of the film fascinates you if you have any interest in American politics, specifically foreign affairs. You understand the importance of this report, and the fight to make it public. The stakes remain high, but the second half of the film loses significant steam. The film lessens its focus on Jones and subsequently on its most valuable asset: Adam Driver.
The film becomes muddled with the governmental red tape of getting the bill to the eyes of the public. Though that storyline still has merit, Jones learning about the CIA’s tactics and arguing with them about the specifics holds a more interesting tone. His search for the truth surmounts his passion for that truth to spread, especially in terms of audience interest.
Driver delivers as always, with Benning and a Mad Men-esque Jon Hamm keeping the story moving forward. Driver’s constant switching from passion to passivity kept the central character of The Report someone to admire. As the system frustrates you to a point of refusal, his work ethic and honor code astonish you, especially if you think of yourself as a good and ethical citizen.
The issues discussed have an extreme significance, but by the end of the film, you don’t want to research the topics discussed, you want to take a break from politics. The movie doesn’t motivate you to make positive changes, at least it didn’t compel me to do more than the shallow five minutes of a Wikipedia rabbit hole.
The fire that is started in the first hour of the film dies out by the credits, bringing this issue to a true, but unfitting conclusion. Burns has made great movies in the past and will likely make great movies in the future, but for Jones’ (and Driver’s) efforts, this feels like a disappointment.
The Report excels in casting, acting, and initial interest, but it lacks distinctive moments, memorable resolve, and a final third that will stick with you.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.