The spectre of 9/11 looms large over The Report, right from the moment, early in the movie, when we learn that the era-defining tragedy prompted Daniel J Jones (Adam Driver) to pursue a career in US national security. Eight years later, Jones is on an entirely different career path. Instead of working for the CIA, The Report tells the true life story of how he was tasked with investigating the intelligence agency’s extreme tactics in interrogating terror suspects after 9/11.
While working on the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence in 2009, Jones is charged by Senator Dianne Felstein (Annette Bening) with heading up an investigative report into the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The reason for creating the report, specifically, is the shady revelation that the CIA destroyed hundreds of hours of tapes containing footage of the interrogations.
What exactly did the CIA have to hide? Jones spent the next five years examining some 6.3 million documents to get his answer. The idea of someone poring over files doesn’t necessarily promise an experience on par with the intrigue of, say, All The Presidents Men, but it’s credit to director Scott Z. Burns that the film goes far in portraying a taut tale of injustice that slices through bureaucracy.
As Jones discovers that prisoners were subjected to practices that veered into torture, we’re given a genuinely unsettling look at what went on. The scenes of prisoners being slammed against walls and “short shackled” to the floor come across like something from the mind of Hostel director Eli Roth, and the waterboarding scenes are incredibly hard to stomach.
And yet, The Report is also effectively nuanced too. In the face of Jones’ relentless pursuit for the truth, it shows the doggedness of CIA chiefs who are insistent that their underhand tactics are for the greater good of the USA. For his part, Driver proves why he’s one of the most exciting actors working in Hollywood today. He manages to convey Jones’ relentless determination over six years, pairing it with equal levels of frustration as he comes to terms with the idea that his report may never see the light of day.
It’s credit to Burns, too, that the film remains accessible at all times – in the wrong hands it could have easily become an exercise in confusing political jargon. Ultimately, The Report proves to be an essential look at one of the most challenging chapters in America’s history, and an impassioned lesson in the importance of pursuing the truth. It’s every bit as vital as The Report that inspired it.