Review: The Report

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

the report ban

This is a repost of our Sundance 2019 review. 

PLOT: Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), an ambitious Senate staff working for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), is put in charge of an investigation into the CIA’s controversial Detention and Interrogation Program, where he discovers the extent of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, implemented post 9-11.

REVIEW: THE REPORT is a damming account of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation, or as the film argues, torture techniques on prisoners in the years following September 11th, 2001. A sprawling, epic account of the driven Daniel Jones’s efforts to bring the truth of the matter to the public, this follows in the tradition of something like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. A tough, uncompromising film, it’s a tremendous effort for writer-director Scott Z. Burns, mostly known for his work as a writer for Steven Soderbergh (who produced).

For anyone not aware of the controversial “torture report”, the film argues that the interrogation techniques, which included such brutal methods as waterboarding, were never effective in revealing information, and hastily implemented. Among the many things to fall under Burns’s critical eye is the way these techniques were tolerated for so long, or even celebrated in the pop culture, with Adam Driver’s Jones criticizing TV’s “24” in one memorable line of dialogue, and also scoffing at a TV report promoting ZERO DARK THIRTY (with Burns going on record after the premiere that while he didn’t mean to criticize the film, he wanted to shed light on the way the CIA manipulated pop culture and our perception of these programs).

It’s a very educational film, with the movie cutting away frequently to show us the genesis of the program, which is presented as hackwork by two academics with no real-world interrogation experience. The CIA is roundly criticized, further exploring the bizarre rivalry with the F.B.I, which makes this a close cousin of Hulu’s “The Looming Tower”, while also criticizing them long after the program ends, with chief John Brennan (played by a terrific Ted Levine) coming in for particular scorn.

Through it all, THE REPORT tries its best not to be too angry a film, but it clearly makes the point that as a whole, these violent, de-humanizing techniques never serve the greater good, and are just purely wrong, as they’re shown to serve no purpose except to make people suffer. The movie also makes the point that by using these illegal techniques, they make it impossible for the government to build criminal cases against the terrorists they do catch, allowing them to exist in a state of limbo (or worse – freedom) rather than be punished to the full extent of the law.

If it sounds weighty, rest assured, THE REPORT is. Yet, it’s ultimately a necessary, even-handed film that reserves its major criticism for a few key figures, but otherwise tries to stay open-minded about what people’s intentions were and weren’t. It also sports one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory, including Jon Hamm, cast to perfection as a White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Jennifer Morrison, Annette Bening (exceptional as Feinstein), Corey Stoll, Matthew Rhys, Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney and many more.

However, the movie thoroughly rests on Adam Driver’s shoulders, with him the engine that drives it forward. It may be his best part to date, playing the type of star role someone like Tom Cruise or Paul Newman would have grabbed in their prime, and he seems like an early potential best actor nominee for the 2020 Oscars. Certainly, based off the uniformly excellent reviews, awards prospects for this one seem excellent, and it’ll certainly go down as one of the year’s most provocative titles, and another example of a great film to emerge from Sundance.

The Report



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.