Remember The Report?
The Report premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was a hit with the critics who saw it. Amazon acquired the distribution rights and, for the first part of 2019, The Report was one of those films that was regularly discussed as being a potential Oscar nominee. Not only was it based on a true story but it starred Adam Driver and Annette Bening. There are several online film critics and award bloggers who are convinced that any film featuring Annette Bening will automatically be an Oscar contender, despite the fact that it rarely seems to work out that way.
Certainly, that ended up being the case with The Report. Despite all of the hype from Sundance, The Report kind of fizzled when it was finally released. That it didn’t do much business at the box office makes sense because it was only given a limited release and everyone knew that it would soon be available to stream on Prime. But even after it was made available on Prime, The Report never really seemed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness. When the Oscar nominations were announced, The Report was not mentioned once. Adam Driver did receive a nomination for Best Actor but it was for Marriage Story.
What happened to The Report? It may have been too low-key for audiences (and, let’s be honest, critics) who have come to expect even a movie about a Senate committee to be experimental and overly stylized. It could be that, even though the film was critical of the CIA and the War on Terror, it wasn’t angry enough for the same people who thought Adam McKay’s Vice was a brilliantly conceived work of political cinema. A more realistic explanation is probably that, in this hyper political age, people didn’t want to watch a 2-hour movie about a senate staffer. Instead, people wanted an escape from all that.
It’s understandable but it’s also a shame because The Report is a very good film. I mean, I usually hate films like this but I was surprised by how much I liked it.
The Report deals with the efforts of Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) and the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the CIA’s use of torture in the aftermath of 9-11. Skipping back and forth through time, the film shows us how Jones was first assigned to lead an investigation into the CIA’s activities in 2005 and how, over the course of seven years, Jones puts together not one but two reports that absolutely nobody wants released. Along the way, Jones goes from being a generally idealistic and optimistic staffer to eventually becoming the type of paranoid and obsessive man who meets with reporters in underground garages and who considers leaking classified information. Daniel has what he believes to be proof that using torture is not only unethical but also counter-productive but, as he discovers, even the members of his own political party aren’t particularly interested in releasing his report. Adam Driver gives a memorably intense performance of Daniel, playing him as someone whose obsession with his report sometimes threatens to push him over the edge and transform him from being a crusader to being a zealot.
Annette Bening plays Daniel’s boss, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It’s interesting casting and, to be honest, it doesn’t quite work. I almost feel like it would have been better for the film to have either kept Feinstein off-screen or to have at least minimized her role. The problem is that Dianne Feinstein is a widely-known figure and it’s jarring to see Annette Bening, another well-known figure (at least among film fans), in the role. Bening plays Feinstein as being a ethical and serious-minded stateswoman and she does what she can with what the film gives her but, at the same time, it’s still kind of a boring performance. The film presents Feinstein, a not uncontroversial figure, in a positive light and I’m sure some, on both the Right and the Left would say that it’s perhaps a bit too positive. One gets the feeling that Feinstein’s main role in the film is to assure us that the system works but we just have to take one look at Adam Driver losing his mind to realize that it doesn’t.
That misstep aside, The Report still works far better than I was expecting it too. Taking obvious inspiration from All The President’s Men, Scott Z. Burns directs the film as if it were a thriller and the deeper that Adam Driver gets into his research, the darker and more shadowy Washington D.C. seems to become. Even though the film clearly has an agenda, Burns gives the other side a chance to make their case without presenting them as being cartoonish villains. In other words, this is the opposite of an Aaron Sorkin or Adam McKay-style diatribe. Instead, this is an intelligent movie about intelligent people. It’s a film that makes some of the same points as many other similarly liberal films but it makes them without taking cheap shots or resorting to a heavy hand. Long after Vice has been forgotten, The Report will be remembered.
And, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Prime!