The Report

The Report ★★★½

A political thriller about a years-long investigation done by the Senate into "enhanced interrogation techniques" performed by the CIA, The Report doesn't quite reach the highs of some of its forbears, in part because it zips around so freely through time - the first ten minutes or so are especially whiplash-inducing. Once it settles down, we actually see very little investigation, perhaps because sitting around on computers doesn't make for riveting drama. Director Scott Z. Burns resorts instead to dramatizing torture, which is squirm-inducing but also strangely hollow. I understand the impulse, but it might have been better to let the report speak for itself.

The second half, which focuses on attempts by the Senate to publish the findings and attempts by the CIA to block it from ever seeing the light of day, is far stronger, and indeed a case could be made that the movie should have just been that. In attempting to offer as comprehensive as possible an overview of the events, Burns offers something akin to a live performance of a Wikipedia page: sure, all the facts are there, but we're missing some essential dramaturgical ingredient.

Still, the material is compelling in its own right, and Burns is good at making the viewer feel immensely frustrated. Burns is also good about not pulling his punches. The usual suspects get their due criticism - Cheney, various CIA officials, the apparently sadistic "scientists" who started the whole thing off - but Obama and even Senator Feinstein don't come away unscathed. If nothing else, The Report is an elaboration of a point made by one character late in the game: Democracy is messy. Perhaps deliberately, this country has been set up to make it hard to do anything, right or wrong. Make of that what you will, but it's easy to see how its regulatory processes can be used to hide uncomfortable truths.

On the technicals, The Report is solid, even if the editing is occasionally a bit loose. Performances are across-the-board solid. Adam Driver isn't given a character to play so much as a stereotype (if you've seen one investigator angrily yelling about how their report is being covered up and misrepresented, you've seen them all), but is still compelling. Annette Bening gets the second-best role as Senator Feinstein, and she is, as you'd expect, very good - though we rarely get in her head. There are a surprising number of great actors in bit parts, too, all doing their best with thin roles.

At the end of the day, this is a fine film about an incredible true story. That a fictionalized account can't quite live up to reality is not surprising, really. Like a redacted report, The Report gives us the big picture while neglecting the details.