The Report is a political thriller about uncovering the CIA’s torture program that plays out like a national security version of Spotlight or The Insider, a taut barnburner that’s explosive without explosions. It’s a movie that largely takes place in the world of government bureaucracy that never forgets the human costs of their policy decisions.
Written and directed by Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (Soderbergh also produced), The Report opens with a title card that says “The Torture Report” with the word “torture” quickly redacted. “The Torture Report” would’ve been a cooler title (hey, if BlackKklansman can do creative typography), but in any case it’s the last time the film plays coy.
Adam Driver plays Daniel J. Jones, a Senate staffer who spent five years trying to expose the CIA’s program of torture, er, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Much of it takes place in courtrooms and boardrooms and offices, but it also doesn’t shirk from the blood, shit, and puke of what “enhanced interrogation” actually looks like. So much of the public debate on the subject involves utilitarian discussions of whether torture produces actionable intelligence, or legal/semantic ones about whether torture is allowed under US law or the Geneva convention. It’s easy to get lost in the drone of ghoulish rationalizations and forget that what we’re talking about is shoving tubes up peoples’ assholes and locking them in coffins until they go crazy as official policy. The Report doesn’t dwell on visual depictions of torture to the point that feels excessive or indulgent, or like it’s fishing for awards, but it offers just enough viscerality to be crystal clear on what this story is really about.
In fact, The Report is not without humor. The two charlatans who sell the torture program to the CIA in the first place, retired Air Force psychologists played by Douglas Hodge and T. Ryder Smith, are like a sadistic Marx brothers duo, convincing the CIA that they have the “special sauce” for interrogations through a series of surreally cruel but anodyne power points — execution orders written in comic sans. They deflect questions about their ridiculous methods with deadpan one-liners, playing off an increasingly exasperated CIA agent played by Maura Tierney.
“I thought your methods were supposed to find the truth,” she demands.
“Yes…” Hodge’s Jim Mitchell carefully explains. “And we found out the truth is that he’s lying.”
I’d happily watch a dark comedy spinoff just about these two, a Catch 22 for the age of corporatized imperial brutality. The Report isn’t that movie, much more concerned as it is with being the Spotlight of torture. And it’s better than Spotlight. The story is bigger, the stakes clearer, and Adam Driver’s labial skillet face is the perfect canvas for the revelation, reserve, and tempered furiousity the role of whistleblower requires. Every Girls hater should be forced to at least acknowledge that the show gave us Adam Driver and show the proper deference. What a gift.