Released in cinemas today (November 15) and with streaming on Amazon Prime to follow later in the month, stunning new film The Report tells the story of Daniel J. Jones (played by Adam Driver in a career best role), the former United States Senate investigator who led the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture in the wake of 2001’s September 11 attacks.
Directed by Scott Z. Burns – who wrote the screenplays for The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), The Informant! (2009) and Contagion (2011) – the film is a harrowing expose of one of humanities bleakest episodes. It also stands up as one of the most important movies released this decade.
In an NME review of The Report, Nick Reilly says that the film “bottles the horror of interrogation”.
“Ultimately, The Report proves to be an essential look at one of the most challenging chapters in America’s history,” the review continues, “and an impassioned lesson in the importance of pursuing the truth. It’s every bit as vital as The Report that inspired it.”
Upon the film’s release, NME‘s James McMahon meets Daniel J. Jones – the real one, not the Rylo Ren one, and the inspiration behind the film – to tell us more about this remarkable story.
What a powerful movie The Report is. It must be a very strange feeling watching a visual document of such an important period in your life?
“Well, I’d been involved in the process of making the movie throughout. I’d watched bits on my laptop and I’d sat in the editing room a bit. Me and Scott formed a friendship during the process, and he’d send me bits and pieces and say: “what do you think of this?” But I don’t think I really watched the movie properly until Sundance [where the film premiered this January] where I was amongst 1,200 other people.”
And how did that make you feel?
“It was gratifying. There are senators who deserve huge acclaim for getting the report published and released. They did it to document a piece of history and make sure that it never happens again. There was something that John McCain said – who’s in the film at the very end – which was that the only way to reclaim your moral authority is to expose what was done. To identify it was wrong and to commit to doing better in the future. And so we published this 6,700-page report and yet it didn’t really permeate society in the way that I think Scott’s film will. And so it feels gratifying that I think this work we did is now going to reach a wider audience.”
When the report was published, the details contained were so alarming, it was presumed that this was something that would change our culture forever. That never happened…
“I totally agree. We thought it was going to change the world. It was the largest study of torture ever – how could it not? We’d showed conclusively that it was massively ineffectual. We’d exposed decades of the CIA actively misrepresenting information to the President of the United States. We thought it would change things immediately; that regimes around the world who engage in torture would understand that said practices were ineffective. It was front page coverage around the world… for one day. And then it was gone.”
Why do you think that was?
“I don’t know. There’d been rumours of what was taking place in interrogation scenarios for a while and to an extent maybe people just thought the report was confirming what they already knew. But if you dug down into it, what was happening was so much worse than anyone could have imagined. And what nobody knew until the report was published was how much the CIA had misled the President, congress and the Department of Justice. And then they did the same thing to President Obama when the Osama Bin-Laden regime went down! That I thought would have major repercussions for the CIA in the United States, but it didn’t. You know, some members in the same committee that approved the report also voted to confirm Gina Haspel as CIA director…”
Haspel was the chief of a CIA black site in Thailand in which prisoners are known to have been tortured. Who was responsible for the destruction of torture tapes?
“That incongruency is a hard one to get your head around. I’ve thought so much about why society didn’t respond how I thought they would. We were great on print media; we were on the front cover everywhere. But what we didn’t have was a focal point which we could put on television. I was working in the senate at the time, so it wasn’t appropriate for me to do it. But the CIA had their people on there, talking about how the report was flawed. Not that they’d say how the report was flawed… That the report lacked context… not taking into account how scared everyone was after 9/11. And now tonnes of CIA have written their books reiterating the same lies…”
And you think the film cuts through that?
“I think I’ve come to realise the importance of narrative and storytelling. I think that’s what truly changes cultural norms. You need people like Scott who can take what was a pretty dusty document and present it as a narrative that people can engage in and learn from. That was one of my jobs after the report was published – to speak to people in the creative industries. One of the people I met was Scott. He immediately set himself apart from everyone else I spoke with, in that whereas other people were asking me for key findings in the report, Scott was asking about footnotes. He knew his stuff. Given I’d spend seven years on this project and couldn’t talk to anyone about it, it was great to really nerd out – for want of a better term – with someone who really knew the material.”
The Report is an extremely provocative film. It’s hard to watch it without feeling a visceral, emotional response. If someone is watching it and thinks, “this must never happen again…” what could they do?
“Well, ultimately I want people to read the report. The film is a non-profit endeavour. Nobody is making money off of the film. But to help that goal we’ve made an audiobook of the report, we’ve done a podcast that’s a deeper dive into it than the film could go… I just want people to engage with the report and know what happened. And I want people to really think about accountability. We have an accountability crisis in the western world right now. Not enough people are being held to account for their actions. Just look at Gina Haspel. She was nominated by the President, and it was a non-event! Not only did the people give her a pass, but the media did. So my view is that people need to demand far more of their elected officials…”