The Report Review: A Distressing Political Thriller [Austin Film Festival 2019]


It’s no secret that a government must keep secrets in order to operate. But where does the line between necessary secrets and information that should be made available to the citizens of the nation draw itself? Such is the question at the heart of The Report, the latest from filmmaker Scott Z. Burns, which is a distressing, timely and revealing political thriller. With a very solid lead performance from Adam Driver, this may not be the most traditionally exciting, pulse-pounding thriller out there, but it’s deeply, and tragically, necessary.

The Report centers on an idealistic government employee named Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) who is tasked by his boss Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) with a major assignment. Jones is asked to lead an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which arose in the aftermath of 9/11. Jones pursues the truth dutifully, only to discover that there is far more going on here than anyone may have realized. His bombshell discoveries uncover a conspiracy within the highest levels of government to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a disturbing secret from the American people.

In the political climate we live in, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s happening. There are major events that we may be tangentially aware of, but can’t begin to comprehend the full scope of the story. This movie is shining a big, bright, ugly light on one such matter. In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. began using more extreme methods of interrogation. Many of us know we waterboarded suspects in captivity. They know we went leaps and bounds beyond good cop bad cop. But just how far did we go? This movie is an eye-opening and disheartening trip down that road.

More than that though, it explores some larger themes via this real-life tale. Adam Driver specifically, becomes deeply obsessed with his task to uncover the truth behind the alleged torture of captive prisoners. Obsession, right and wrong, oversight, these are all layered into the script, which Scott Z. Burns also wrote. It also explores the notion of how quickly the masses might overlook things when motivated by fear. Should our general compass that guides us to what is right, as a nation, be set aside in times of crisis? The Report asks some very tough questions and it’s these questions, as well as the answers presented, that make it worth the ride.

That said, this is not the most cinematic movie, so to speak. It’s not some sexy, overly stylish thriller, ala perhaps David Fincher. It’s certainly well crafted, but it’s also pretty straightforward. It almost feels like an HBO miniseries, only packed up nice and tight in a two-hour package. In my mind, that’s a good thing. Though it may affect one’s personal motivation to run out and see it in a theater. It’s certainly something to be aware of as Oscar season ramps up.

Adam Driver reasserts himself as a man who can do anything here and it’s beyond easy to see why, at such a relatively young age, he’s worked with so many great directors in his career. The other nice thing is that Driver is absolutely surrounded by other massively talented performers such as Annette Bening, Michael C. Hall, Douglas Hodge, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll and Jon Hamm. It all adds up to a compelling journey through a fundamentally misguided happening at the highest level of our political system. The Report arrives in select theaters from Amazon Studios on November 15.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Movieweb.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb