In the politically contentious times of today, films about whistle-blowers are beginning to have increasing prevalence. The desperate search for truth against insurmountable corruption and lies is a story that is as timeless as ever. The Report sees writer/director Scott Z. Burns tackling the story of one Senate lead investigator’s deep dive into the immorality of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program following 9/11, and the immense struggle he had in getting the truth out there.
It’s a story that feels ripe for dramatization, and while Adam Driver‘s slowly unraveling lead performance conveys the film’s utter frustration at all the lies and cover-ups, The Report gets too bogged down in heavy-handed exposition and repetitive scenes to have the impact that the fascinating and horrifying true story carries.
Adam Driver stars as FBI agent Daniel Jones, who is tasked by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead an investigation into the tortuous tactics that the CIA used on suspected terrorists following 9/11. As he goes deeper and deeper into the dark void of lies and corruption, we see intermittent flashbacks to the disturbing moments in the CIA’s blindly immoral pursuit of justice against the enemies who wounded our country that day in 2001. The horror of Daniel’s revelations turns to passionate aggravation, as the fight to make the truth public becomes an uphill battle against those in the CIA and White House who are intent on keeping their dirty secrets secret.
Films about whistleblowers are the most effective when the fact-based dissection of the story is matched by the drama inherent in the whistleblower’s dangerous journey to exposing the truth. Michael Mann’s The Insider and Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men, for example, are able to balance the facts and the drama in a way that makes both films urgent and gripping. The Report tips the scales more into the facts of the matter than the drama of its protagonist, which shows Burns’s intense desire to let the facts speak for themselves in communicating the widespread corruption that pervades U.S. politics.
Unfortunately, this intense intent on uncovering the facts makes The Report comes off as a little dry and repetitive, with scene after scene of shocking exposition bogging down the urgency of Daniel’s journey. And while Annette Bening always commits herself 100% to her roles, most of her dialogue amounts to “so, you’re telling me that they did this and got away with it??” Showing more of her struggle with her political adversaries would’ve heightened the drama considerably and given Bening more to work with, as an actor.
The flashbacks to the CIA’s wrongdoings don’t do much beyond visualizing what has already been revealed through exposition by Jones through his reporting to Feinstein. They also tip ever-so-slightly into overstatement, especially in the portrayal of the mustache-twirling vileness of the psychologists played by Douglas Hodge and T. Ryder Smith, who instigated the implementation of torture tactics into the CIA’s interrogation techniques.
The most effective flashback scene involves a PowerPoint presentation that shows the various physical techniques the psychologists would want the CIA to use in interrogating terrorists. The absurdity of the presentation’s content is horrifying enough, but the scene goes one step further to include CIA agent Bernadette (Maura Tierney, in a one-note role) stating that the idea is genius. What is meant to shock and anger becomes a little too on-the-nose by the time the scene reaches its end, and that ends up being true for many of the film’s flashback interludes.
The Report works best when it tracks Daniel Jones’s increasing frustration with what the CIA and the government are getting away with. And thanks to Driver’s understated performance, we see cracks start to form, as his passion for getting his report heard is constantly met with opposition from those involved in the lies. Driver does his best at delivering page after page of exposition with conviction, but when the script allows the seeping anger to fester and boil over, that’s where his pursuit becomes more compelling. If only the script delved more into Daniel Jones’s internal struggle, the film might have been more gripping.
The Report is a provocative story told in a somewhat dry and heavy-handed way. Adam is the Driver of the narrative (sorry, I had to), whenever the film takes the time to let us in on how Daniel’s investigation affects his ability remain composed in standing up to corruption. It’s a great performance that is lost within the expository hand-holding of the script. This is undoubtedly a story worth telling; but there are more cinematic ways to tell it than what we get here.
The Report is rated R, and it is currently playing in limited release.
All images courtesy of Amazon.