It's not fun, but it's essential.
Streaming on Amazon | 2019 | R | 1h 59m
Why We Watched: When I was writing my master's thesis on Zero Dark Thirty, I read (part of) the 525-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture—the subject of Amazon Studio's latest film The Report. (You can read it too if you want.) It was a matter of time until someone made a movie about this.
You Might Also Like: TBH, I am a biiiig Adam Driver fan. Girls? Yes. Star Wars? Bring it on. BlacKkKlansmen? Uh huh. Marriage Story? It's on my list. I'll pretty much watch anything that's got him in it, and I'm not alone. Martin Scorcese called him "one of the finest, if not the finest of his generation." For more on Driver, who is currently having "a moment," I strongly encourage you to pick up the latest issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, where the rising star graces the cover.
Torture doesn't work. Victims of torture simply tell their captors what they want to hear to make the torture stop. After 9/11, the CIA decided it was necessary to use "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (EITs) on captives in an effort to find Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and to prevent future attacks like the one on the Twin Towers. People debated the morality of this then, and they still do—just take a look at the comments section of The Report on Amazon Prime. But it's a pointless debate, now that we know what we know: That torture is a useless intelligence-gathering technique and is therefore utterly unjustifiable.
The Report chronicles the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA's post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. The committee, chaired by Diane Feinstein (played by a fierce Annette Bening), assigned a small team of senate staffers to the investigation. Headed by Daniel J. Jones (played by Adam Driver), between 2005 and 2014 the team read millions of CIA documents and investigated the treatment of hundreds of detainees. In the end, the committee produced a damning document that not only outlined the brutal treatment of detainees but also the corruption within the CIA to hide that treatment from multiple presidents, department heads, and investigators.
During the Senate investigation, the staff involved had to fight hard to keep the report alive, and the obstacles weren't just political. When Zero Dark Thirty came out in 2012, it told a story of how the CIA discovered Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan thanks to torture—the Oscar-nominated film was shaping an entirely different narrative than what the classified investigation was revealing. Zero Dark Thirty is only glossed in The Report, but at the time of its release, the senators leading the investigation saw it as a big hurdle and publically condemned it: "People who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner."
There were plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who didn't want The Torture Report to see the light of day. The career CIA staff who had supported torture during George W. Bush's administration didn't want it to come out. John Brennan, head of the CIA, didn't want it to come out. Barack Obama didn't want it to come out, because he felt it would reinforce partisanship. But on the eve of turning things over to a very partisan and Republican-majority senate, the committee voted to release the report in December 2014. The Report features archival CSPAN footage of Sen. John McCain's speech on the floor at the announcement of its release: "The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless."
The Report credits Jones with the titular document's completion. His single-minded pursuit of the truth and releasing it to the public is the driving force of the film. It's interesting, then, that Dan is such a boring character. The script gives him zero backstory, zero personal life, and basically zero personality. Adam Driver is the character's—and the movie's—saving grace. The former Marine brings a level of intensity to the role despite a bare-bones plot. He “devoured” the publicly available report before filming, says director Scott Z. Burns: “He wasn’t going to say a single fucking word if he didn’t know exactly why he was saying it.” Without Driver's finely tuned acting and expressive face and voice, there would be little there to draw viewers in.
If the movie is boring, why watch it? Because it's the first mainstream film since Zero Dark Thirty that seeks to document this unsavory period of US history. It's essential viewing because what it portrays implicates all of us. We have a responsibility, I think, to educate ourselves about this. So, watch the movie—but don't take its word for it; maybe also give the report a read. Do a little digging. It won't make you feel good, but that's okay.