The Report is the latest in a recent crop of procedural dramas about everyday people fighting to reveal uncomfortable truths about America. Like Spotlight and The Post, which focus on the work of journalists to uncover institutional wrongdoing, this film deals with an internal effort by Congressional staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to investigate and report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. But more than those films, The Report emphasizes the personal toll that efforts to pursue justice take on Jones, especially when it’s not politically popular or advantageous for him to do so. What begins as a simple desire to serve his country becomes a dogged and at times seemingly futile quest to provide accountability for our government’s torture program in the face of political opposition and institutional resistance.
I was most impressed by how writer-director Scott Z. Burns managed to capture the almost Sisyphean nature of this tedious process on the investigators without making it too boring or dry for the audience. As an attorney who has participated in multiple similarly dense, fact-heavy legal investigations (albeit with much lower stakes than this one), I can tell you that it’s not a particularly cinematic endeavor. Reviewing thousands of pages of records, developing a complex timeline, and preparing a factual report is not especially riveting stuff. As Daniel Jones, Driver makes the investigative process incredibly compelling, and his relentless determination is the engine that propels the entire film forward. He always lets us see the toll that the work is taking on Jones, even as he brushes those burdens aside and carries on. It takes an actor of considerable talent to carry such a plot-driven, dialogue-dense film, and Driver does so almost effortlessly. He finds capable scene partners in Annette Bening’s Dianne Feinstein and Jon Hamm’s Denis McDonaugh, both of whom convey the competing political interests at play for each of their respective characters with the tiniest of glances and gestures. Burns, a frequent Soderbergh collaborator, proved his ability to juggle multiple plotlines taking place across different continents with 2011’s Contagion; here, he balances not just multiple sets of characters in far-flung locales, but also leaps back and forth through time to recreate the events of the past out-of-order. The revelation of the narrative mirrors the non-linear way that the investigators developed their case, so that we as the audience piece together the puzzle alongside them. In the end, The Report is gripping procedural drama about the personal and political costs of revealing the truth and holding fast to the principles that our nation purports to uphold. It’s a compelling reminder that our democratic ideals are not self-executing; they only persist if we make them.