The following is a review of The
Torture Report — Directed by Scott Z. Burns.
While Netflix is enjoying another moment in the sun with the release of Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece, The Irishman, which is streaming exclusively on Netflix, Amazon Studios has quietly released The Report to Prime Video. The lack of awareness that The Report is getting is reminding me of a quote in the film itself: “you have a sunlight problem.” Though The Report isn’t the most notable or, frankly, the best film released on streaming services this week, Scott Z. Burns’ film is genuinely gripping thanks, in large part, to a strong central performance from Adam Driver that elevates the otherwise potentially dramatically listless material.
Scott Z. Burns’ The Report is a film about the investigation spearheaded by Daniel Jones and Senator Dianne Feinstein, which studied and reported on the CIA’s use of torture following the September 11th attacks. In Jones’ taxing investigation, he was met with much criticism from counterterrorism agencies, and his report was continually undermined and blocked by both the CIA and the White House. This film chronicles Jones and Feinstein’s attempts to have the report released.
The Report is a how-they-done-it — a term that I first encountered in the book Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films — which is to say that it is a political thriller about how something came to be, but presented almost like a whodunnit, as it were. This subgenre also includes films such as Steven Spielberg’s The Post, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, and, most notably, Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men. These films often feature scenes of the main character, or characters, meeting with journalists or whistleblowers in car parks at night. There are always a lot of documents and scenes of the main character reading material that may otherwise be uncinematic or dramatically inert. The Report follows all of these subgenre tropes.
These films can be difficult to watch as the central story is usually not much more than political disagreements, bureaucracy, intense and overwhelming research, and several images of either computer-screens or documents. The Report is no different, and Burns has tried his hardest to combat this listlessness, but he isn’t always successful. Scott Z. Burns shoots the main study area in a dull and numbing color palette dominated by shades of grey, white, and blue, and there are several names and dates to keep track of. Jones’ many compelling but long information dumps to Feinstein may easily feel laborious or like homework. However, Burns does make great use of flashbacks to CIA torture that are all very effective. The color palette that these flashbacks are shot with is warmer but almost sickly, and the content of the flashbacks is relentless and infuriating. Though the flashback structure does help the film, it never feels cinematic, and Jones’ frequent meetings with Feinstein eventually become quite repetitive.
Though Annette Bening is also quite good, The Report is, without a shadow of a doubt, Adam Driver’s film. Though awards season buzz will likely dictate that this performance will be pushed into the background, Driver’s outstanding performance should not be forgotten. Thanks to his performance’s effective fits of frustration and righteous disbelief, Driver alone makes the information dumps fairly gripping. Although Scott Z. Burns’ The Report, sadly, seems destined to rest among multiple other streaming films that are eventually forgotten, Adam Driver’s performance, in particular, deserves much better than that. Adam Driver, one of the greatest actors of his generation, buoys up this film, which, without him, might’ve been nothing more than a slog.
7.9 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.