Kylo Ren goes to Washington when Adam Driver portrays a relentless, earnest investigator in “The Report,” a gripping procedural drama that is also a love letter to paperwork. Based on the true story of the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, “The Report” dives deep into the nitty gritty details and rationale behind the agency’s move toward “enhanced interrogation techniques” through the lens of the grueling efforts of one tiny committee. Led by FBI agent Dan Jones (Driver), the group works to produce and share a 7,000-page report on what really happened.
After the CIA destroyed thousands of hours of audio tapes relevant to the controversial practice, Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) assigns Dan to lead a tiny and inadequate team to go through a gazillion pages of information. Holed up in a secure basement office, they learn through meticulous reading that after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the CIA hired a contractor to utilize “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees at “black sites” in countries throughout the world, supposedly to prevent future attacks and capture those responsible for that terrible day.
Graphic flashbacks show the torture perpetuated on the detainees, but I found it equally jarring to see men in suits calmly discussing waterboarding while looking at a PowerPoint presentation on how to do it. It is almost treated like a normal HR initiative, but in practice represents a dire turn from a defensible human rights position. The contractor leading the effort is a psychologist who has never interrogated anyone, and is contrasted with a veteran FBI agent who speaks Arabic. The film posits that the more macho approach seemed to satisfy a thirst for revenge, even if it was less effective.
Over six grueling years of research into an almost unfathomable amount of paperwork, Dan and his dwindling, demoralized team develop a picture of a program that was rushed into use and was ultimately ineffective. They look at the cases of more than 130 detained individuals, how they were treated and what information they gave up, and conclude nothing important was learned at all. If the program was effective, it’s morality would matter a great deal less to most people, but Dan makes the case it was torture for its own sake.
The film gives us the drama of the minute details of Dan’s process, and also the large-scale background of the national and international implications of this story for the Bush and Obama presidential administrations and for the CIA, who seem to have fumbled information about the attacks beforehand, and are desperate.
For “The Report,” the guiding concept is that the truth itself matters, and even though you can see all the different political angles and sides as to why, and who the truth would hurt, the very idea that the truth must be reported because it happened becomes disturbingly complex to defend. “Because it’s true” is a sadly inadequate reason for many people in this film. The magic word “non-partisan” appears, and “The Report” really shows us how elusive and complex that concept is.
It’s a mighty grim and unsentimental look at how the world works, but utterly fascinating for that reason, too. It will give you some truths to gnaw on, a deep dive behind the scenes of vast structures and the extremely human element to what the majority of us only see as monoliths of power. In most situations, we only see the outcomes of the kinds of machinations “The Report” shows at work, and the film does so with an effective mix of compelling details and broader drama. If you liked the journalism saga “Spotlight,” you will like “The Report.” It romanticizes extremely hard work, professional zeal and manila folders in a similar way, which, if you work in any kind of office, can actually prove fairly inspiring.
“The Report” is currently available to rent or stream.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).