FilmReview

Review: Brutal and Jarring, ‘The Report’ Has Great Performances but

Victoria Stuewe ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor

Political scandal stands as a popular topic in cinema. Whether through documentary or political thriller, there is a sort of lure in watching a film that demonizes a corrupted government. After 9/11, the state of America changed drastically and radical efforts were put into place after the day’s catastrophic events; however, since then, people have finally realized the efforts to which the government was willing to go to get the information they desired. This is the crux of The Report, a film about the torture investigations the U.S. government allowed and the eventual inquiry made by the Senate. A quite brutal and eye-opening film, it does fall flat. Focusing too much on the accuracy of the events, it fails to capture any sort of urgency and its attempt to spur action comes off as uninspired. 

The film alternates between the report being made and 2001-2002, when the torturing was first taking place. Senate investigator Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) is assigned to the case by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to uncover CIA secrets surrounding their interrogation methods post-9/11. Along the way, he encounters multiple obstacles from both the CIA and the Executive Branch, creating instability in the government. 

Annette Bening in The Report. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.

With a fiercely passionate Adam Driver and a reserved Annette Bening, the performances are the best part of the film. While they did their best, they were acting with a script that needed work. It relies too much on the events surrounding the subject without really delving into anything else. While you can see snippets of character, there’s no depth to their personalities, no real reason to root for these characters other than for the obvious reason that torture is bad. It’s too removed, almost journalistic, making it seem more suitable as a documentary rather than using cinema as the vehicle to present this information. Yes, it is imperative that this content is spread and heard among audiences, but it doesn’t use cinema to its highest potential.

Perhaps marketing it as a political thriller was a misstep. The end result is fairly obvious throughout, even if you didn’t know the story, making tension not as high as it could have been. The only sort of tension comes out of the extremely brutal and harrowing scenes of torture seen and described throughout the film. It could even be hard to watch for some because of the sheer fact that these actions occurred in real life. 

These scenes set in the early 2000s are chaotic; shots are primarily filmed with a handheld camera — reminiscent of the equipment used to record the interrogations — and in a warm color palette, making you see how hot-tempered the U.S. was post-9/11. In contrast, scenes with Driver are all done with a steady shot and a cool color palette. While this juxtaposition is interesting, it does seem a little too obvious to show the contrast between two time periods, almost to the point of being gimmicky.

Jon Hamm in The Report. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.

There are many moments like this where there are attempts to differentiate the film from mainstream movies, but these attempts ultimately falter because it doesn’t push or challenge you with new creative ideas. The film is definitely competent, but, perhaps, a little too on-the-nose in execution. For example, the inspiring music welling up near the end of the film as Feinstein makes her speech to the Senate doesn’t seem to fit in a film about such a gruesome topic. It feels more like glorifying the government for this one speech rather than condemning it for its countless misdeeds. There seems to be a disconnect between the two timelines that makes the script feel more like a skeleton than a finished project.

That all being said, it should be noted that it is a fine film. As stated earlier, the performances are solid, the set design is clean, and the look and aesthetics of the film was intriguing enough. If you can handle the explicit torture scenes, it’s an important film to watch in terms of being informed on the subject. It primarily leaves more to be desired in terms of presenting the content in a more dynamic presentation rather than its flat execution.

While the film definitely succeeds on a surface level, it feels too shallow to leave you satisfied. Yes, the facts were ultimately released and these abhorrent actions by the government should be revealed, but that’s the obvious conclusion you can make by looking at the CIA Torture Report Wikipedia page. Its hyperrealism gets in the way of presenting a film with complexity, degrading it to become a movie without substance needed to incite any action it might have hoped to create.

Overall Grade: B-

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