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Adam Driver is an excellent actor. That may not be a controversial statement by any stretch, but it's something that needs to be said more often than it is. He's really, really good. While he may be primarily known to audiences as a Star Wars villain (a role he also makes leaps and bounds better than it could otherwise be), in between those movies he has compiled a collection of unique roles in many very exciting films.
Adam Driver is so good that he can make movies that would otherwise be slow, dry, and dull, far more compelling than they would otherwise be. Such is the case with Scott Z. Burns' The Report.
The report in question is what has come to be known as The Torture Report, the U.S. government's dossier on CIA black sites and the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that took place there in an ultimately failed attempt to gain intelligence from captured terrorist suspects. In a nice touch, the movie's full name is actually shown to be The Torture Report, but the word Torture gets redacted, much like the fate of so many government reports.
In the movie, Adam Driver stars as Dan Jones, a staffer assigned to the Senate Intelligence Committee. California Senator and committee chairman Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) assigns Jones to investigate the CIA handling of detaining and interrogating suspects following September 11, 2001. As one might expect, this investigation isn't popular in some circles, making Jones' investigation difficult, and only increasingly so as it takes five years for the report to be completed.
The Report plays out exactly like one, feeling more like a recitation of facts than a narrative
The bulk of The Report's two-hour run time is dedicated to exactly Dan Jones investigation and the compiling of the report itself. Jones and his team read through documents provided by the CIA, attempt to track down what happened to various detainees and what, if any, intelligence was gained. As stories are uncovered, we're treated to flashback sequences showing the people responsible for the "enhanced interrogation." We see the sleep deprivation, the physical attacks, and, of course, the water boarding. We see the stakes increase as previous strategies fail to result in intelligence.
The Report is aptly named because that's essentially what we're watching. It's a dramatization of the information in the report itself, with a parallel story of the collection of that material. It's not that it's not enthralling, much of it is, but it essentially just comes across as one long info dump. In this time, in this place, this thing happened. And then the next thing. And then the next thing.
Most of the movie takes place at conference tables with one character telling another character, and therefore the audience, whatever it is we all need to know at this point in the film.
That information is certainly worth knowing. While many of us are probably aware of the the highlights of the CIA's actions following September 11th, The Report calls out specifics of which the average moviegoer is not going to be aware. Even though you may know where this story ends — it didn't end that long ago after all — seeing the steps that brought it all out is almost certain to bring about some strong feelings, with anger and frustration likely among them.
The Report wants us to connect to the story through Adam Driver’s character, but it never tells us who he is
The Report attempts, quite rightly, to try to anchor the plot in the human story. Adam Driver's Dan Jones is the face of it all. He's the one driven to seek the truth, frustrated by the political games that attempt to stifle his work.
The problem is that The Report never goers far enough to make Jones a complete character. We never get a sense as to who he really is, or why he becomes so dedicated to the work. We never see him outside of his job, or get a deeper understanding of the character in any real way. Without the ability to empathize with a person, you're locked out of engaging with the rest of the story.
We're supposed to get the sense that this endeavor started as a simple job, that Dan Jones had dome similar things before, and that it became something more, something truly important — but it's never made clear where or when or why that switch got flipped.
Adam Driver and Annette Benning elevate an otherwise dry affair
All of this is not to say that the actors don't do their level best with what they're given to try and get you invested. As previously stated, Adam Driver is excellent, and he is able to impress his performance with enough energy to carry the story. If the The Report had simply been Driver reading from the over 6,000 page Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, which it occasionally feels like is, it might have still been worth the price of admission.
Annette Bening also puts in a strong performance as a politician who may have the nation's best interests at heart, but never loses sight of the fact that she's a politician. She is both adversary and ally at different times, but the shifts always make sense. Considering her real world counterpart has been seen as both hero and villain within her own political party, it's a potentially more complicated role than it might first appear.
The Report struggles to turn an important story into a good movie. In the end, it succeeds more than it fails, thanks to strong performances and the fact that the story in question is one that needs to told.