The Report (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A long, frustrating struggle for one important report

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“The Report” is angry and outraged behind its dry, methodical façade. Following one plain American government official’s long, frustrating struggle to finish and then publish a damning official report on the systemic tortures committed by CIA in the name of patriotism and national security during the years following the September 11 attacks, the movie often loses its detached attitude from time to time, and that is understandable, considering that, as told to us at the end of the film, most of government officials and agents responsible for this national disgrace were not punished at all.

The story begins with its real-life hero, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), starting to work as a junior member of the US Senate staff in Washington D.C., 2003. As your average idealistic lad, Jones eagerly wants to serve his country as much as he can, and, several years later, he comes to work under Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), who, as the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, instructs Jones to investigate on how CIA handled and interrogated its numerous detainees for extracting any information from them to track down terrorist groups and prevent another possible big attack on the country. Although that means he and his few other colleagues are going to go through a series of difficult and demanding tasks, Jones soon embarks on doing his job in an isolated office located somewhere inside the CIA headquarters, and that is the beginning of his long journey amid thousands of documents and records during next several years.

While delving deeper and deeper into heaps of documents and records, Jones cannot help but horrified by how those detainees, most of whom were labelled as terrorist suspects without any hesitation, were brutally mistreated by CIA officials and the contractors associated with them. As shown from a series of flashback scenes, many of high-ranking officials in CIA were quite shocked and enraged as watching the September 11 attacks on TV, and they soon became very determined to do anything necessary for winning War on Terror and making the country safer than before. When the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) were suggested, they promptly accepted this suggestion because, well, it looked like a way both swift and effective for extracting whatever they were going to report to the White House.

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Jones meet a few people willing to talk about what they witnessed. For making their detainees feel more confused, helpless, and desperate, CIA officials and their contractors mercilessly applied several horrific methods of EIT including waterboarding on their detainees, and we accordingly get a series of gut-wrenching moments including the one involved with forced enema. Although there was some protest against this inside CIA, those high-ranking officials simply disregarded that because 1) they needed to report anything to the White House for saving their reputation seriously damaged by the September 11 attacks and 2) EIT are not tortures technically according to their very twisted and questionable legal logic.

Some of you may say that the end sometimes justifies the means, but, as sharply pointed out in the film, most of the information extracted via EIT turned out to be pretty useless because those tortured detainees frequently lied just for stopping their torture. Even in the cases where they actually did not lie, most of what they confessed was trivial or was already obtained via far less brutal and aggressive methods.

And we get to know more about how sloppy CIA was in the application of EIT on its many detainees. For example, two certain figures advocating EIT presented themselves as psychology experts, but they actually knew nothing about how to interrogate detainees. In addition, there was an old CIA report which was written not long after the Vietnam War, and it firmly concluded that torture is not a good method for extracting information from detainees.

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As learning more and more about the brutality and immorality of EIT, Jones comes to feel more urge to get his job done, but, not so surprisingly, he and Feinstein soon come across several obstacles and setbacks. While the officials of the White House are not so willing to expose what their predecessors deliberately or unwittingly allowed CIA to do, the director of CIA, John Brennan (Ted Levine), and his people in CIA are ready to suppress the report by any means necessary, and Jones later finds himself in a serious legal trouble due to a certain piece of document he deliberately took out from his workplace.

Although the screenplay by director/co-producer Scott Z. Burns, who previously wrote the screenplays for “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), “The Informant!” (2009), and “Contagion” (2011), loses its focus and narrative momentum from time to time, the movie is held together well by the earnest performance by Adam Driver, who has had another productive year as appearing in several notable films including “The Dead Don’t Die” (2019), “Marriage Story” (2019), and, yes, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (2019). He is also surrounded by a number of good performers including Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, and Corey Stoll, and Bening is enjoyably unflappable as a no-nonsense senator who cares about public service as much as Driver’s character.

On the whole, “The Report” is sometimes a bit too heavy-handed and monotonous at times, but it is occasionally sobering in its alarming presentation of the dark side of War on Terror. Although I felt impatient at time during my viewing due to its rather flat narrative and thin characterization, the movie engaged me enough at least, so I recommend it with some reservation.

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