The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program was a government-funded investigation of over 6,700 pages that took a decade to compile. It has never been released in its unredacted form. The report itself is wide-ranging in its subject matter, but basically focuses on how the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as part of the war on terror. EIT, as this movie makes clear, is a euphemism for torture, and while compiling this report was a massive ordeal for investigator Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) and others, getting the report to see the light of day was an even bigger challenge.
It’s unfortunate that a document of such importance has been reduced to a movie so televisual and uncompelling. Director Scott Z. Burns had written the screenplays for several of Steven Soderbergh’s movies, which examined issues plaguing American society in interesting ways, such as the De Palma-esque thriller Side Effects and the broad, absurdist comedy The Informant! Seeing The Report makes it clear how important good direction and, more importantly, great directorial vision is. The film mainly follows Jones as he puts together the report with the occasional flashback to something that Jones has discovered, often evidence of torture or government officials talking about it. This structure makes the film monotonous and predictable, despite the horrific nature of the discoveries Jones and his team have made.
Burns had an impossible task of condensing ten years of investigation and 6,700 pages of text into a two-hour feature. This loss would have been fine if he had supplemented with something else: some more creative storytelling or cinematography, but Burns’ insistence on straightforward presentation of as much information as possible is a strange drawback to a film that could never have been as comprehensive as he clearly wanted it to be.
The Report’s most interesting feature is the conflict between Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) and Daniel J. Jones, who are technically on the same side. Driver plays Jones as a man of extreme tunnel vision, tirelessly working on his almost quixotic quest for something that may never see the light of the day. (In fact, this could almost be seen as a weakness of the script since we don’t learn much about Jones outside of his work.) Feinstein, as a politician, sees more shades of gray. Her attempt to convince Jones that they have to consider other factors in the publication of the report, such as the current presidential administration and the mood of the country, is a fascinating conflict that the film explores expertly. This is perhaps the most commendable aspect of the screenplay since the movie does make clear that the work that Jones does influences his personality and informs his view of the world. For example, when he insists that the report needs to be published legitimately, as opposed to what Edward Snowden did with his findings, it makes sense in terms of his character.
If The Report had been a five-hour documentary miniseries, similar to O.J.: Made in America, this material would have been served better. The film touches on so many themes, such as American entitlement, xenophobia, distrust in authority, etc. that it would have been fascinating to see a story about this report with an abundance of relevant content. Such complexity would have served the film well, and it is obvious Burns was trying to go for this complexity with the mention of Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty, which Jones sees a trailer for at one point in the movie. Zero Dark Thirty was a similarly ambitious effort to condense a decade-long investigation into one film, but its inclusion in this film is meant to be a condemnation of that film’s failure to clearly reject torture as a sanctioned means of interrogation. It is almost as if The Report was meant to “fix” all the faults of that admittedly flawed, but ultimately more compelling film. Instead, The Report is uninspiring and fails to really strike home the terror of how far into the recesses of evil that certain people in the American government were willing to go.