In December 2014, 525 pages of a 6,725-page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture on terror suspects were released. The rest of the original, unredacted report remains classified, but Scott Z. Burns’ political docudrama The Report sheds light on the investigation, spearheaded by Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), that culminated in the publication of that excerpt.

After Jones meets with lawyer Cyrus Clifford (Corey Stoll) amid the battle to publish the titular report, the film goes back in time to the early 2000s and details the series of events that lead him there. Interspersed with flashbacks showing the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terror suspects, it follows Jones as he and the Senate Intelligence Committee spend several years investigating the failings of the program and the misinformation it provided, which they attempt to expose to the public. Seamlessly circling back to the meeting in 2012, the film’s final act sees Jones struggle to get his report released in the face of backlash from the CIA and the White House.

As both director and writer, Burns handles the 10+ years of political history with great ease, masterfully crafting a film that is both well-paced and fascinating from start to finish. Films like The Report can often get wrapped up in political and legal jargon, but Burns’ script is easy to follow even for audiences with little knowledge of the subject matter. That isn’t to say that it has been dumbed down; it is accessible while still being smart and informative.

The film also strikes a good balance between getting to know Jones on a personal level and keeping some distance. The audience spends a lot of time with Jones and witnesses him change over time from a quiet, unassuming employee to an outspoken, strong-willed hero to the people. However, he is only ever seen at work. There are no scenes of his private life at home with family and friends, which keeps the story from becoming too dramatized and sensational.

Driver’s performance as Jones proves once again why he is currently Hollywood’s hottest property, effortlessly portraying the nuances of Jones’ personality as it evolves over time. Another key player is Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein, the Californian Senator who has been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee since before 9/11, including throughout Jones’ investigation. Bening portrays her compellingly as stalwart, passionate, and a force to be reckoned with.

Daniel J. Jones received a standing ovation upon appearing at a recent screening of the film at the BFI London Film Festival, which goes to show how much responsibility political docudramas have in enlightening the public. The Report isn’t particularly memorable or noteworthy in terms of cinematic technique, but its commitment to informing audiences about a critical time in American politics renders it an indispensable piece of cinema.

Rating: ★★★★

Directed by: Scott Z. Burns
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell

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