The Report is literally about a 7,000 page report, which you see in physical context at one point: Two seemingly foot-high stacks of paper sit to both sides of investigator Dan Jones (Adam Driver) as he presents his shocking findings on the CIA’s illegal post-9/11 torture methods to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report itself is absolutely damning, and is the result of five years of research and digging by Jones and his small team. You can the discomfort on the Senators faces. No one really wants to hear it, much less read it. Hell-o American politics!
A few years after September 11th, it is leaked that the CIA destroyed video tapes of their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” of terrorist suspects. The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, in an impressive helmet-wig), appoints Dan Jones and a small team to get to the bottom of this destruction of evidence. But they find that even though they have access to the database of CIA documents and reports from their dark, hyper-secure basement office, that they are blocked at every turn by the CIA itself once bad things start to emerge.
It turns out these enhanced interrogation techniques (or “EITs”) were full-on illegal torture, conducted by fly-by night CIA-contracted “psychologists” who had no proof of the effectiveness of their methods. Feinstein speaks for all of us when she asks why it would take waterboarding of one prisoner over 180 times (achieving no new information) to figure out that the method didn’t work?
As a film, The Report has some tricky territory to try to cover, while trying to create a cinematic experience. Driver does the best he can under limited scenarios… remember, he is mainly reading and typing furiously in a basement, and talking to his boss in an office about what he has found, becomingly increasing irate that his report isn’t released. But he is not allowed to talk to or interview anyone (so take away the man-on-the-street investigative thrills of All the President’s Men), and what he is talking about all happened in the past (hence the first half of the film is wincingly torture-heavy, showing the techniques over and over). So if you aren’t watching torture scenes, you are mostly watching scenes of people reacting to the threat of a stack of papers.
A few scenes pop out as particularly memorable: There is a PowerPoint presentation by the sleazy psychologists to the head honchos at the CIA (played by Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, and Carlos Gómez). The poker-faces of the CIA betray no reaction as they see slide after slide of stick figures being water boarded, slammed against walls, and crammed into small boxes. You think, there’s no way… then that nice Maura Tierney basically nods and jaw-droppingly says, “Let’s do it!” Another flash of intrigue shows Jones watching TV, and a trailer for the Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty comes on, and he is appalled knowing that the whole “true story” basis (that info for the capture of Osama Bin Laden was based on information gained from the EIT sessions) was one big fat lie. (Now, THAT is a story in itself.)
The Report is definitely an interesting story, filling in more blanks about how much went wrong and how much was covered up by our government before and after 9/11. As a cinematic experience, it is solid though not really exceptional. As we see from Adam Driver staring at a computer screen, there is just too much to dig through, and so many names (redacted) to process all that happened. But maybe a high-level overview of something like this is all we can really handle these days. To go through and dissect the full torture report would end up being a horror anthology series.