Monday 23 December 2019

Film Review: The Report

A procedural drama that recounts the US Senate's investigation of Iraq War era misdeeds conducted by the CIA, Scott Z Burns' film The Report is a stern and rigorous piece that lacks swagger or emotion.

Centred around intelligence officer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), The Report delves into an investigation into the brutal 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (read: torture) that was employed by the CIA during the Iraq War and the War on Terror to little effect.

With many Washington figureheads looking to hide the truth and squash his report, Jones' thorough investigation navigates cul-de-sacs and roadblocks from the get-go, while spirited Senators in search of answers – such as Annette Benning's Dianne Feinstein – doggedly fight Jones' corner.

The Report is very dry – lots of filing cabinets, Boolean searches, manila folders, boardroom meetings, judicial committees and post-it notes stuck to the walls of dark basement offices. Driver, who can be commended for a committed and compelling lead performance, spends lots of his time striding around in sharp suits, flicking through CIA reports and explaining his findings in succinct soundbites to Benning, who has a penchant for asking the right questions to move the plot forward or allow Driver to deliver a bombshell answer.

The film recalls Tom McCarthy's Best Picture winner Spotlight, except Spotlight involved a lot of pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and the occasional Oscar reel outburst. The Report not so much, with even the most earth-shattering revelations playing out in an understated manner. Skirting through the better part of two decades, The Report does feels like an executive summary of Jones' story, and trusts the audience already has a sound understanding of American politics, from Bush and Cheney to Obama and McCain.

It covers themes and ground covered in other recent political thrillers, such as Kill the Messenger, Snowden, Official Secrets and Vice. These last two were great films in their own right, because they either honed in on the person behind the whistleblowing (Official Secrets) or brought a degree of energy and swagger to the table (Vice). The Report, however, doesn't.

The first hour is arresting stuff, with Jones' investigation running parallel with flashbacks that recount – in excruciating detail – the advanced interrogation techniques that were conducted in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Iraq War. It's hard to watch and distressing at times, but the back and forth – between Jones putting the pieces together and the original acts of torture unfolding, is clever storytelling that keeps things moving at a decent pace.

However, the second half is a different story. Once Jones has drafted his report, the film pivots to bureaucrats and politicians squabbling over whether or not said report should be released or squashed. Jones and his life outside the suit and tie isn't explored at all – he's a blank slate that apparently ceases to exist outside the office. We never once see him at home or interacting with anyone who isn't at work. As good as Driver's performance is – in fact, all the performances are at least good – we don't care about these characters as people. They're just plot devices.

If The Report sounds dull, that's because vast swathes of it is. As interesting and upsetting as its subject matter is, I found myself drifting in and out because the film gave me no reason to care about the characters beyond their work. As a 90-minute documentary or annotated work of non-fiction, I can see this film holding together better, but as a two-hour film, it's sorely lacking in compelling characters to support the turgid jargon and flat mise en scene.

The Verdict: 6/10

The Report is an interesting attempt at unpacking an ugly period in recent American politics, but it lacks a sense of energy, emotion or forward momentum.

The Report is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...