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The Report | Scott Z. Burns

November 14, 2019

Playing out with an advocacy doc’s briskness and efficiency of exposition rather than a suspenseful chronicle of investigative journalism, Scott Z. Burns’ The Report is closer to something like Spotlight than the more formally aggressive and elegant All the President’s Men or Zodiac. And certainly Burns, mostly known as for his regular screenplay collaborations with Steven Soderbergh, is no David Fincher or Alan Pakula. But in the realm of narrative movies that would have just as easily been long magazine articles, it’s effective and engrossing, and never gets bogged down in procedure even when its miserable protagonist does.

Like a bipartisan Zero Dark Thirty diss track.

Adam Driver is idealistic Senate staffer Dan Jones, tasked by his boss Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) with heading up an investigation into, ahem, “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA in the wake of 9/11, a job that swallows many years of his life and eventually begets what becomes know as the Torture Report. This is a bitter film, one of endless frustration at a system based in reactionary politics, nepotism, and ass-covering, not to mention outright mendacity. All Driver has to do is be stoic and grouchy to make this play, but instead he leans in hard to that frustration, playing Jones as out-and-out resentful; The Report doesn’t so much valorize Jones as a righteous whistleblower as it does paint everyone else as varying degrees of neglectful and hypocritical. There’s a lot of help here from a great cast; aside from Bening there’s Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, and even Maura Tierney as a particularly unpleasant CIA analyst. Extra points for a quick scene that plays out like a bipartisan Zero Dark Thirty diss track, with Dan getting himself pissed off all over again while he watches Kathryn Bigelow’s film. The whole thing is occasionally hamfisted, deliberately unsexy, and unashamedly didactic, and that’s as it should be.

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