Torture, “The Report” is not. As serious as sin and as elegant as truth, writer-director Scott Z. Burns’ densely cast political thriller about a staffer (Adam Driver) assigned by his boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), to investigate a CIA enterprise begun in the aftermath of 9/11, the Detention and Interrogation Program. What Daniel J. Jones finds is familiar to those who read further than the headlines: crimes, cover-up and destruction of evidence during the George W. Bush years. (Obstructive members of the Obama administration are not spared, either.) An executive summary of the still-classified torture report provided Burns with the graphic content of “The Report.”
Burns’ screenplays—including “The Informant!,” “Contagion,” “Side Effects” and “The Laundromat” for Steven Soderbergh—are concerned with morality in the modern world, and he counts Jones as a character burdened with truths he must divulge, a la Frank Serpico, Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich. When Feinstein tells Jones, “Find out exactly what they have and read every word of it,” she has no idea how far the investigation would have to go in the next seven years.
Jones’ inquiries into what is done in the name of the United States find troubling answers from a teeming cast that includes Sarah Goldberg, Michael C. Hall, Douglas Hodge, Fajer Kaisi, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, T. Ryder Smith, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney and Jon Hamm.
Driver (in two films opening in Chicago this weekend) is fast turning into a twenty-first-century version of 1970s antiheroes, including Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland: intelligent yet shambling, fiercely present yet also suggesting some sort of mysterious calm. (See also: “Marriage Story.”)
There’s still another heavy hitter: David Wingo’s score, largely synthesizer and piano, is one of his best, evoking the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s and particularly the unexpected level of discordant passages akin to the best of composers of that era, such as Michael Small, whose scores for “Marathon Man” and “The Parallax View” are akin to the bittersweet agita of the soundscape of “The Report.” 118m. (Ray Pride)
“The Report” opens Friday, November 15 at Landmark Century and Wilmette; and Amazon Prime on November 29.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.