Investigative thriller The Report cares so passionately for its subject matter that it could almost be considered a new work of journalism, rather than a docudrama. Director Scott Z. Burns has written and produced several films on the theme of speaking truth to power using any means available, whether it’s with a wire (The Informant!), with fists (The Bourne Ultimatum), or a slideshow presentation (An Inconvenient Truth). Where those films used democratic accountability as a thematic foundation for stories about people within a system, The Report is first and foremost a detailed examination of a system that broke down. Characters are defined primarily by their role in relation to the so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” and their backstories are second.
R, 118 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema
Counterintuitive as this may seem, it’s the film’s main strength. Burns shares a passion for justice with his lead character, Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), a former investigator for the United States Senate working under Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening). Jones is tasked with uncovering the CIA’s use, justification, and subsequent cover-up of EITs, a clear euphemism for torture, in the war on terror. At least one might think it’s clear: over the 10 years Jones spends researching and preparing his report, roadblocks are thrown in his way. Some are expected in a democracy, but many are patently absurd.
Corruption, as Jones discovers, is not only the work of wicked people for self-enrichment. People who wish to do good within the system might tolerate abuses in order to make a political trade. Is this the same thing as being complicit, wanting justice but choosing not to act in order to attain another set of goals? Where does political realism become its own form of corruption? Does just governance require tolerating evil?
The Report is the kind of movie that is not typically good, but it is the best version of this kind of movie. There is shouting, but there is no “Scandal”-style screaming monologue revealing the full story. There is a rogue’s gallery of perpetrators, but there is no main bad guy who can be arrested to fix everything, a la Money Monster. Best of all, The Report accepts that there may be a political bias within the film, but has the courage to insist that being against torture ought not be controversial. Burns avoids the vulgar comparisons between the Bush and Trump administrations that plague so many political thrillers, and he doesn’t let Obama off the hook for looking the other way in the name of “post-partisanship.” There are no unearned slam dunks, no distracting references to “Fool me once,” “Mission Accomplished,” or “known unknowns.” Personality matters, but cold, hard facts matter more.
Good performances, tight dialogue, and smart direction make The Report a watchable film. What makes it more than that is the urgency of its material. Everything Jones did was in service of the truth. Everything Burns does in The Report is in support of keeping our eyes on the prize, and the belief that anything worth having is worth fighting for, even if you shouldn’t have to.
Local theater listings
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.
See it again
The Last Waltz
PG, 116 minutes
November 23, 8pm, The Paramount Theater