Adam Driver has had a great year, starring in such films as “Marriage Story”, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “The Report.” It wasn’t until he starred in last year’s “BlacKkKlansmen” that I truly saw what he was capable on screen, a performance that gave him an academy award nomination and proved that he has a bright future ahead of him after the Star Wars sequel trilogy wraps up.
Directed by Scott Z. Burns, “The Report” is based on real-life events surrounding a report commissioned by the U.S. Senate that critically looked at the U.S.’s use of torture after 9/11. The film follows Daniel Jones (Driver), a Senate staffer whose primary job is to look at the extensive report, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), who led and championed the report, with everyone else being part of the supporting cast that, for the most part, serve as part of the world and background the film.
Through Jones’s eyes, the film traces the origin of the use of torture in the United States, which is championed by psychologists James Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) and Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith), who sell it as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). Despite the fact that several accounts from members of the CIA, dating back to the 70s admit the fact that torture does not work, the CIA decide to green light Mitchell and Jessen’s methods anyways amidst the nation’s post 9/11 panic, taking advantage of the fact that no one will question what they think they need to do to keep the nation safe.
Mitchell and Jessen lean heavily on their psychology degrees, and the CIA defends their ideas to the nail despite the fact that they had no tangible evidence beyond irrelevant theoretical experiments, as well as no experience in interrogation. Every method the two try ends up being completely ineffective compared to traditional methods of interrogation, as well as inhumane. The film does a great job of highlighting the faulty logical justifications for such acts, as the CIA and Mitchell and Jessen invoking patriotism more than once, with their supporters justifying the atrocities by a misguided need to save lives no matter what it takes. Everyone gets caught up in the furor of 9/11 that no one stops to ask if torturing prisoners was necessary in the first place.
The CIA is painted as a massive, rogue agency that would rather look forward than deal blame over past atrocities, not realizing or caring that it is only through accountability that past mistakes are prevented from being repeated. The film makes it a point to highlight that no one in the CIA went to jail or was fired because of the tortures, because they were protected upon layers of layers of bureaucracy that went all the way up to then-President George W. Bush. In fact, many of them were promoted.
It really does a great job of showing what a mess Washington is, with the government’s various agencies getting into each other’s ways, as the president initially gives the clearance to obtain intelligence from suspected terrorists by any means necessary, which the CIA sees as a free pass to torture, but bureaucracy within Bush’s own administration prevents him from knowing the full extent of the torture program he supposedly cleared until five years after 9/11.
And throughout Jones’ investigation, Jones finds that the CIA was not always honest in their work, claiming some detainees were more important than they were to get clearance to torture them, and outright lying about the effectiveness of torture, claiming it gave them key intelligence when their own internal communications prove that it almost never did. In fact, it did the opposite, rendering their prisoners useless, uncooperative, injured, and sometimes dead.
Because the Senate was doing the investigation, Jones and Feinstein also have to navigate political landmines at every step, with Republicans threatening to kill the report. Even when the Democratic President Barack Obama is elected, who ends the torture program shortly after taking office, they find very little allies, as Obama is wary of alienating Republicans. Democrats are portrayed as always being on the defensive, overly concerned with seeking middle ground with Republicans even when doing so sacrifices greater public good. You really get a good understanding and impression from the film why Washington politics are so divisive and ineffective, as Jones’ very necessary report could’ve been killed at any stage had Feinstein not fought hard for it, even if she did waver at times.
“The Report” gives you a healthy dose of politics and current events, and puts to film an important but grim stain in the history of our nation that we’re still living through, and it dares its audience to ask hard questions about those who we have trusted to protect our nation.
Arguably, even though his report came out and the torture program was shut down, Jones lost, as the people within the CIA and the contractors they hired are still living their lives, consequence-free, some of them still in the field. There are no Nuremberg trials for their war crimes, and there might never be any indictments.
“The Report” gets 8.5/10