VOD film review: The Report
Adam Driver’s twitchy eye8
Katherine McLaughlin | On 15, Nov 2019
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm
Watch The Report online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Director/writer Scott Z. Burns’ (a frequent collaborator with Stephen Soderbergh) dramatised account of Daniel J. Jones’ official investigation into the CIA’s use of torture in the wake of 9/11 acts as a passionate indictment of a corrupt system. Just like the man at the centre of the film, it has good intentions and lofty ambitions, as it attempts to blend the heroism of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with a Pakula-style political thriller. Sadly, The Report lacks some of the smarts and judgement of those pictures, with the decision to enter torture zones shifting focus away from the film’s most valuable asset – Adam Driver’s mesmerising turn as an obsessive Jones.
Burns faces the same dilemma that David Fincher did in The Social Network: how do you make staring at computer screens and trawling through facts and figures into a thrilling movie? He gets it half-right, for sure, by simply casting Driver in the lead role. It’s a memorable performance that rightly evokes anger, exhaustion and downright disbelief. Driver is given room to deliver both Capra-esque exchanges and speeches and quieter moments where his facial expressions do all the talking. You’ll notice at times, when Jones is under duress, how Driver occasionally twitches his eye. It’s a small but powerful detail that’s entirely impactful; it shows frustration and stifling of emotions as he tries to remain professional in a heated environment.
The supporting players in Jones’ story include the woman who tasked him with the report, Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm) and attorney Cyrus Clifford (Corey Stoll). Maura Tierney turns up as a ruthless CIA agent and Matthew Rhys adds further moral conflict as a New York Times Reporter, who offers the temptation of whistleblowing.
The violence shown is detrimental to the overall narrative. It’s not that the torture scenes aren’t upsetting and sickening – of course they are – but they are handled with less care and attention than Dan’s arc from idealistic employee to enraged political force. These scenes are packed with one-note villains, including the two psychologists behind the ‘enhanced detention and interrogation programme’ that is designed to provoke debility, dependency and dread. The way Burns has unpicked facts and phrases from the ‘Torture Report’ in an accessible way is impressive, but this side of the story lacks nuance.
What does work in The Report’s favour is its decision to remain impartial, as the timeline straddles both Republican and Democratic governments. It doesn’t let anyone off the hook as it scrutinises dubious policies and practices across the board.
The Report is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.