The title of this film as it appears on the screen has a redacted word between THE and REPORT. We learn almost immediately that the inked-out word is TORTURE, and writer/director Scott Z. Burns bases his movie on a Senate investigation of the C.I.A.’s Detention and Interrogation Program started in early 2002 by the Bush Administration while the nation was still reeling with fear and confusion following the 9/11 attacks. Film footage is shown of Vice-President Cheney authorizing use of any procedures needed to obtain information about terrorist tactics and possible future attacks.
However, the movie does not start here. Instead, “The Report” opens in 2009 with a new administration concerned by the rumors of possible torture being used by the C.I.A. under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation.” Also alarmed by these rumors is the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein (a very convincing Annette Bening), who gets her committee to agree on forming an investigative study of the C.I.A.’s procedures.
To head this investigation and write the report, she assigns a scholarly, hard-working young man, already serving on her staff. Dan Jones (Adam Driver) seems to need little sleep and even less diversion or entertainment. Persistent by nature and thorough by habit, Dan also possesses a sense of honor and fair play. Working out of a vault-like basement office with a few assistants, Dan delves deeply into the rumored torture techniques that the C.I.A. appears to have used to get information from detainees rounded up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and placed in several prisons located in unidentified “black sites.”
They learn that what passes as “enhanced interrogation” begins to appear to Dan and his assistants like torture. The deeper the committee digs, the more horrific their findings become. One detainee has died from drowning. Another has been water-boarded more than 150 times. It is not the C.I.A. agents who perform these egregious tactics; they have hired psychologists who claim to know how to use foolproof techniques for obtaining confessions or information about terrorists. The techniques are called “Walling,” “Use of Insects,” and “Mock Burials.” They are designed to result in “Dread” and “Learned Helplessness.”
However, none of the detainees held in these “black sites” have officially been arrested nor has their connection to 9/11 been proven. Somehow these facts enter into Assistant Attorney General John Woo’s (seen on film) justification for allowing the Geneva Accords to be ignored, since the detainees are not technically prisoners of war. As the Senate Committee learns of the ugly findings Dan and his assistants have uncovered, they also learn that no accurate or usable information has been extracted from any of the detainees. Dan’s work extends for five years and results in a 6,700 word report.
Even the most skilled writers and directors would be challenged trying to create a movie about a report. And not all audiences will become engaged in the journey we take with Dan and his investigation—its challenges, its setbacks, its breakthroughs, and its eventual outcomes. “The Report” demands work on the part of audiences because the material is arcane and the many flashbacks can be confusing. Yet the writing is strong and the acting is superb. The scenes in which Dan meets regularly with Senator Feinstein are riveting. Both Bening and Driver are completely convincing as they portray their characters’ clear-headedness and dedication to serving the country in an accurate and honorable manner.
It is important to note that at this writing all theaters are closed, but “The Report” is streaming on Amazon Prime and will soon be available on DVD.