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Film Review: The Report

19 November 19 words: Fabrice Gagos

To what extent did the CIA use torture to gain information after September 11th? And did they aim to cover their tracks afterwards? Scott Z. Burns feature film tries to give us the answers...

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Starring: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm

Running time: 120 mins

11 September 2001, the United States suffers the biggest terrorist attack in the country's history. From that point on, nothing would ever be the same. Decisions were taken about how to react and, more importantly, how to avoid another attack of that scale. As well as saving lives, they also wanted to save the US Counter Terrorism Center from being seen as an enormous failure. So, in order to gather important intelligence on other planned attacks, the CIA developed EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), a nice acronym to describe the use of torture on prisoners, without having to use the word itself. Daniel Jones (Driver), an employee of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is tasked by Senator Diane Feinstein (Bening) ti investigate these new techniques in order to hold the Government accountable. But Jones' investigation quickly reveals the CIA's systematic use of tortue.

The Report covers more than ten years of political struggle, as Jones and Feinstein attempt to make the report public within the context of them undertaking a "war on terror." If you are not afraid of political jargon, the film is a thorough depiction of one of the darkest chapters in US history, as well as a powerful insight into the political mechanics where nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems. 

A quick Google search will tell you that The Report is seen by some as a Liberal revisionist tale (I know, Rule Number One: never read the comments - but I always enjoy a good laugh...), but it is instead more of a philosophical reflection on the famous quote from Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

A thorough depiction of one of the darkest chapters in US history, as well as a powerful insight into the political mechanics where nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems

So yes, as a film, it is about as dry as they come. But The Report was never meant to be purely entertaining - and it's easy to forget that it's a work of fiction (albeit one based on real events). In some twisted way, you may even grow to enjoy the flashback scenes that portray the actual torture techniques, because they bring some welcome action. Ahead of seeing this, prepare yourself for long focal length close-ups of people talking really seriously and expressing very little emotion against blurry background.

It’s not that the acting is bad, it’s just that they have nothing to do. The film is distributed in cinema by Amazon Studios which should quickly make it available on their streaming service and, to be fair, I think that The Report is more suitable to this kind of viewing, so you can pause and check events or acronyms on-line to make sure you follow (and to avoid yawning). Scott Burns first directing effort is focused on the importance of holding the Government accountable and understanding power struggles, but he forgets to make it at all an enjoyable or entertaining experience. He clearly wants to make you think, but also wants to make sure you don’t take any pleasure in doing so. Your interest in the film will totally rely on your interest in the subject. I definitely enjoyed it, but I’m a weirdo.

Did you know? Adam Driver, who plays the lead role of Daniel Jones, signed up to join the Marines following the September 11th attacks. 

The Report is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 28 November

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