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The Report

Year: 2019
Studio: Amazon
Director: Scott Z Burns
Producer: Scott Z Burns
Writer: Scott Z Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Maura Tierney

In 2017 it seemed like Dwayne Johnson must have spent the entire previous year on sound stages and press tours, he appeared in so many movies. Now it's Adam Driver's turn, appearing in what seems like his 17th movie of 2019 after Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and The Dead Don't Die.

He always seems like a kind of aw shucks personality more interested in exploring the craft, but he either has a very shrewd career strategy to conquer Hollywood as fast as possible or some agent or manager does on his behalf.

And it's heartening to see because he's not a traditional leading man type. In fact it's while playing an everyday guy like he does here you realise what a weird looking dude Driver is, and how most of his roles until now have traded on his off kilter visual appeal. To be brutally honest Driver looks like a tall, evil Kermit the Frog when he's trying to play a completely normal guy in a suit without the dishevelled manner of an artist or the costuming accoutrements of a Sith lord.

Maybe it's that, or maybe it's the script by director Scott Z Burns, but there's a slight sense of removal from humanity in The Report. Even though it's about one of the most personal, sensory treatments that can visited on a human being (torture), the emotional dimension of The Report – when the characters have to play real people with feelings, families or foibles – is a little bit ham fisted.

It works much better as a procedural drama, an almost documentary-like look at how torture became official US government policy in the wake of the War on Terror. Jones' countenance never rises about mild annoyance even in the moments of high drama, and Annette Bening as California Senator Dianne Feinstein, doing such a droll impression of the real life Senator, isn't doing any favours for the dramatic weight of the movie either. With her slow, deadpan delivery she comes across as somewhere between first read through and badly sleep deprived.

Driver is Jones, a senate staffer tasked by Feinstein to look into the story that the CIA recorded torture sessions and then destroyed them before they got out. After that report is compiled and submitted Feinstein asks for a deeper one, and Jones assembles a team to work in a stuffy room in the CIA's basement for years, poring over millions of documents, tracking down and interviewing witnesses and trying to uncover the truth we all saw in the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures.

Starting with the Bush White House deciding to call them 'detainees' and therefore excluding them from any Geneva Convention protections, it goes all the way down to a pair of hack psychiatrists and their narrative about 'enhanced interrogation techniques' the army buys hook, line and sinker.

This review isn't the place to lay out the entire plot because you couldn't do so in words any more effectively than the movie does by itself, but it jumps backwards and forwards in time between the capture and torture of suspected terrorist and sympathisers, Jones and his people combing through years of records and testimony trying to connect dots, and the doorstop tome it all produced.

Despite the far from seamless human element, the third act does move into more personal territory for Jones when the powers that be come after him. We've seen early on how, frustrated at the possibility his years of work might be buried, he's snuck documents out of his office (highly illegal) and started talking to a reporter in an effort to get the truth out, the swirling scandal prompting him to lawyer up and prepare for the worst.

More frustrating still is when Feinstein, who you (and Jones) expect to support him fully, seems less interested in protecting Jones and the truth than avoiding her own political embarrassment in case it all blows up in her face.

The design and staging makes for a very realistic portrayal of the dotting of i's and crossing of t's that makes up government business, and how finding the truth behind abuses carried out by governments is more about reading boring papers the size of phone books in tiny rooms than anything else. A great cast gives some talismanic pieces of the puzzle life and breath too.

It's all about documents and bureaucracy, and the fact that the government are torturing and murdering people in dark foreign jail cells at the end of the paper trail reminds you a little of the banality of evil concepts we know from movies like Brazil or the Nazi death camps, where mistreatment and cruelty are industrialised by papers passed between antiseptic offices by people in suits.

When it gets right into the nitty gritty of it all, it also gets a bit clumsy with all the exposition, but Burns probably does the best job he possibly can both in the script and on screen to keep the audience up to speed with what's not often a very visual subject.

In the end it's a worthy subject to bring to light in a dramatic film, but it's also another example of what Snowden did. We all knew at the time that that entire blanket of legal procedure was itself above the law and that the US government was doing exactly what it likes around the world. All The Report does (as Snowden did) is show us the evidence in black and white.

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