This has been a film I’ve been intrigued by for a while. Writer/director Scott Z Burns has written some interesting scripts in the past, mainly in his work with Steven Soderberg and whilst not all of it has been successful (I personally think The Laundromat was a well intentioned misfire) there are always interesting elements to them. So hearing that he would make his directorial debut with The Report, a film about the investigation of the CIA’s torturing of detainees, I was intrigued and the film itself is a tense, powerful film, showing that Burns has learned well from Soderberg about directing.
The film focuses on the work of Daniel J Jones, an investigator for the Senate Intelligence Committee on the staff of Senator Diane Feinstein, who is chosen to lead an investigation into the CIA’s enhanced interrogation programme. Through his investigation, Jones and his team discover that the methods employed by the CIA comprised torturing detainees, gaining information that was either lies or redundant, and that the CIA repeatedly misled the government and the public about the effectiveness of torture. As the film goes on, we see the efforts of the CIA to bury the report and discredit Jones with the film also cutting to scenes showing the torture going on to demonstrate how useless it was in obtaining information. This element of the film is what helps it work. By allowing the audience to see how ineffective torture was, it puts us in the mindsets of Jones, allowing the audience to feel disgusted by what is being shown and allows us to understand the frustration of Jones when the CIA keeps trying to bury the report. We also see how the CIA is focused more on public image in some instances rather than actually doing the work needed. It’s clear that the CIA don’t want the report released so that their image isn’t tainted and how PR is more important than justice, along with showing the efforts of the CIA to find any way to stop the release of the report, even breaking the law to do so. I do think there are some elements of the film that could have been expanded upon, mainly the way the media represents torture. There are brief references to how media such as Zero Dark Thirty and 24 shape the perception of torture, but these elements could have been explored more in depth, particularly Zero Dark Thirty and the way the CIA spun the role of torture in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
The performances meanwhile are solid. Adam Driver as Jones is effective in showing his zeal in ensuring the high level of research for the report is completed, along with showing his growing anger when the report is delayed and his desire to ensure that the report is completed the right way. It’s a fairly subdued performance, focused more on showing Jones as a consummate professional until pushed too far. Annette Benning as Diane Feinstein meanwhile shows her desire to ensure the report is written correctly and is presented to the American people. We see the conflict Feinstein has with the CIA and how this influences her push to get the report released. Jon Hamm as Denis McDonough is effectively slimy in his role. The rest of the cast are mostly small roles, but the talents of people like Michael C Hall, Matthew Rhys, Tim Blake Nelson, Douglas Hodge, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, Sarah Goldberg and Linda Powell add to the weight of the film, giving depth to even the more minor characters in the film.
The technical elements of the film are impressive, and shows how Scott Z Burns has been inspired as a director by Steven Soderberg. This is particularly the case with the colour grading, cinematography and editing of the film and the contrast between the investigation scenes and the scenes depicting the torture. The scenes for the investigation are very crisp with a blue tint to them, static camera movements and a digital sheen to them, whilst the scenes depicting the torture are more hectic. These scenes have an orange tint to them, the camera is handheld, constantly moving around with heavy use of dutch angles and it seemed to me that these scenes were grainier. This shows the darker, horrific side of the torture more effectively and creates an effective structure to the film. The production design meanwhile, mainly for the investigation room, is excellent, giving the film a claustrophobic feel that adds to the tension of the film.
Overall, I found The Report to be an intense, disturbing look at the CIA’s torture programme and the efforts to expose it. Whilst there are some elements that could have been explored in more depth, the focus of the film was in the right place and I was gripped throughout, the film creating an air of paranoia and foreboding that worked with the story it wanted to tell.
My Rating: 4.5/5