Sundance 2019: The Report

Adam Driver appears in The Report by Scott Z. Burns, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima.

With some very strong acting performances, The Report follows a Senate staffer’s thorough investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

Even though the film starts with the beginning of the investigation in 2009, the flashbacks date back to 2001.  Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) was tasked with researching the CIA while working as a staffer for U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  This followed a 14-1 vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee.  As an staffer, Jones reports directly to Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening).  Originally set to include three Democrats and three Republicans, things changed when Attorney General Eric Holder started his own criminal investigation of the CIA.  The Republicans pulled out so only the Democrats remained.

From several years, Jones and company looked at over 6.3 million internal CIA documents.  There were documents that the CIA didn’t want him to see, most notably the Panetta Review.  A lot of hell was raised over this single document!  It’s this document in general that proved to be a game changer for the investigation but it came with some unfortunate consequences.  Jones would earn his place in history because of his work.

It isn’t just that Jones took matters into his own hands.  The battle that followed would show just who truly cared to see actions come with consequences.  Would President Barack Obama and then-CIA Director John Brennan (Ted Levine) heed the words in this report?  You think you know politicians and then you see the steps that they–okay, their underlings–would take if it meant hiding information from the public.

This film would not happen without Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith) and James Mitchell’s (Douglas Hodge) place in American history.  We know their place as a result of Katherine Eban’s 2007 Vanity Fair article that inspired the film.  The two psychologists that never one participated in any sort of CIA field investigation.  Yet they are the two who came up with what we know as the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program.  In the years before any sort of investigation was ordered by the U.S. Senate or Department of Justice, their names were already public.

What is truly fascinating are the actions that Senator Mark Udall (Scott Shepherd) would have taken.  The senator would have gone so far as far as to read the entire report on the Senate floor.  If it meant getting the Report on the record, Udall would have done so.  Through the actions of former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm), we learn that the administration was willing to cover up the findings.  It’s very displeasing to see an administration that many put on a pedestal to be every bit as willing to go along with a cover-up.  And to redact the names of people who were already on the record–what the hell was up with that?!?

Here is what we know as of now:  The Torture Report has yet to be fully released to the public.  It may the fact that there are 6,700 pages are contained in the report.  Or it may be the fact that there are people afraid of the public learning the true story.  As of now, only a 500 page document has been released to the public.  It won’t be until 2028 before the public knows the full story.  This film is about as authentic as one can get considering the information that is still very much redacted.  The film runs just shy of two hours but I’m impressed by how much they were able to fit in.  A mini-series could very well tell the larger story but this one alone feels very satisfactory.

This film isn’t without a meta moment.  There’s a point when Jones is watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty.  The film, starring Jessica Chastain, premiered in late 2012.  This is before the Torture Report was even released to the public.  The research found by the Torture Report puts Zero Dark Thirty in an all new light.  How does Mark Boal’s original screenplay nomination hold up now?

Of the few senators featured in the film, there is one who appears by way of archival footage:  John McCain.  It’s very fitting that the late Sen. McCain gets to play himself reading his own speech.  McCain is among the few members of Congress in recent years to have known what it’s like to be tortured.

The Report is one of those films that premieres during Sundance and you just instantly know it’ll be in the Oscar conversation.  There are some very strong performances by both Adam Driver and Annette Bening.  I give writer-director Scott Z. Burns a lot of credit for taking us back to a very dark time in U.S. history.  If Amazon plays their cards right, we’re looking at several Oscar nominations.

The Report is a thrilling contemporary companion to All The President’s Men as this film is not afraid of pulling back in search of the truth.

CAST:  Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Ian Blackman, Guy Boyd, Dominic Fumusa, Sarah Goldber, Carlos Gomez, Douglas Hodge, Ben McKenzie, Jennifer Morrison, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, Scott Shepherd, Victor Slezak, and Jon Hamm

The Report held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section.  Amazon Studios acquired the rights. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.