15 nov movie rev the report

Waterboarding and other forms of torture come under scrutiny in The Report

Drama, rated R, 118 minutes, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2 chiles

It’s hard to imagine a less sexy subject for a movie than the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program — even if you abbreviate that mouthful as the “torture report,” and even if you cast Adam Driver (dreamy, amiright?) as the guy who was then-committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s dogged lead investigator.

It’s a tough sell, even if you add Annette Bening as the California senator, and even if you throw in Jon Hamm and Maura Tierney for good measure, as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and a (probably fictionalized) CIA official. This may be the world’s first movie micro-targeted to several thousand of the people who live and/or work in Washington, and no one else.

Writer-director Scott Burns has certainly tackled difficult subject matter before. As recently as this fall, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat came out, with a screenplay by Burns that turned the Panama Papers scandal — about the leak of documents implicating an offshore law firm in financial chicanery — into a darkly comic meta-movie, with Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman talking directly to the camera, while sipping cocktails.

But The Report, also produced by Soderbergh, takes a more conventional approach to storytelling, framing the narrative as flashbacks to “black sites,” where we watch CIA contractors waterboard detainees (and worse).

Regularly, the film cuts back to Driver, as Senate staffer Daniel Jones, pounding away on a computer, scribbling furiously on a whiteboard, taking instructions from his stern-faced boss, or taping up photos on the walls of his windowless office until it starts to resemble the lair of a serial killer.

The casting is impeccable and includes Tim Blake Nelson as a Deep Throat-esque whistleblower who meets Dan in a parking garage to offer cryptic assistance on his yearslong investigation, which is said to have examined over 6 million pages of secret documents. But even with all the dramatic black-site interludes — which are viscerally upsetting to watch, and morally infuriating — and even with all the insights the film offers as to how officials could rationalize away such atrocities, there are only so many close-ups of Driver’s disapproving face — or Bening’s — an audience can take.

That’s not to say that this isn’t an important story or a good movie. But by situating it within the context of a government report, albeit a bombshell one, The Report loses a little human sizzle.

The 2015 Oscar-winner Spotlight somehow managed to make investigative journalism seem thrilling, humane, and even heroic, without resorting to flashbacks of child abuse. The Report doesn’t quite manage the same trick. 

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