The Report

 

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A brave enterprise that is to be welcomed but which fails to provide effective drama.

 
The Report

Jon Hamm

  

Now that Hollywood concentrates so much on movies that are part of some established franchise, it is good to find an American film offering something distinctive. That being so, I was hoping to acclaim this feature by Scott Z. Burns who is best known as a producer but functions here as both writer and director. On paper it sounds like a piece comparable to one of the best films of 2010, Doug Liman's Fair Game which told the story of the treatment of the CIA operative Valerie Plame after views expressed in The New York Times by her husband angered those in power. Unfortunately, though, despite having admirable intentions The Report fails to become compelling drama in the way that Fair Game did.

 

The central figure in The Report is Daniel J. Jones played by Adam Driver. His is the initial voice-over, but we also see Jones in an opening scene that doesn't fully explain itself. When that voice-over declares, "I think I should begin at the beginning" it comes as a relief, but for the next two hours or so the ensuing narrative keeps jumping back and forth in time. The beginning may turn out to be in 2003 but almost at once we move on to 2007 and then to 2009. What does become clear is that Jones eventually came to work for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) in her role as chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In time, he would produce a report of 6,700 pages looking critically at the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, something that is now at the centre of this piece. There is no doubt that Burns’ film is to be welcomed for showing in dramatised form important events: the investigation into torture authorised in America after 9/11, the lies put out in justifying it as supposedly being necessary to ensure safety and the actions of the CIA to prevent the facts from coming out (even now Jones's report has only been made public in a severely redacted form accompanied by steps taken to prevent full publication for twelve years).

 

It should be stressed that in handling this material The Report is not one-sided, by which I mean that it does not hold back in criticising the fact that after Obama came to power the Department of Justice failed to prosecute the CIA officials involved. But, if that emerges clearly, much does not. As the film proceeds there are frequent brief flashbacks followed by scenes in which we again take up Jones's continuing activities.  However, since his work covered a span of around six years, we are often uncertain what stage we are at and, indeed, the film's detail just leaves us confused (American audiences better aware of the events depicted and of the various set-ups that function within the Senate and the CIA probably have an advantage here).

 

Jon Hamm has what is virtually a cameo role, but Driver with far more to do is persuasive throughout and even stronger is Bening who brings real presence to her many scenes. But, even if eventually the general picture falls into place, The Report is frustratingly difficult to grasp in its details and that makes it inevitable that as an effective drama the film falls short.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Ian Blackman, Guy Boyd, Dominic Fumusa, Sarah Goldberg, Carlos Gomez, Douglas Hodge, Ben McKenzie, Jennifer Morrison, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, Scott Shepherd, Victor Slezak, Jon Hamm.

 

Dir Scott Z. Burns, Pro Scott Z. Burns, Jennifer Fox, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti, Kerry Orent, Steven Soderbergh and Michael Sugar, Screenplay Scott Z.Burns, Ph Eigil Bryld, Pro Des Ethan Tobman, Ed Greg O'Bryant, Music David Wingo, Costumes Susan Lyall.

 

Vice Studios/Unbranded Pictures/Jennifer Fox/Margin of Error/Topic-Curzon.
120 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 15 November 2019. Cert. 15.