Adam Driver Takes on the CIA and a Dense Script
DIRECTOR: SCOTT Z. BURNS/2019
I realized something during The Report: I could watch Adam Driver read the phone book. Then I realized…that’s what I was watching.
Driver plays Dan Jones, staffer for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) and lead investigator of the CIA’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation tactics (EITs). The Report follows him from the start of his career in 2003, through a near-full decade of investigation, and finally to the release of the report in 2014. After a few short scenes setting up Dan’s background, The Report becomes, well, a report. Committee meetings, phone calls, and flashbacks to the memos and emails he’s reading are the building blocks of this film. The Report is not just a story about the torture report—it’s a dramatization of it.
Summarizing hundreds of pages of an intelligence report into a narrative is no easy feat, but to its credit, the film stays focused and coherent, never veering into subplots or irrelevant particulars, so much so I found myself wondering if Feinstein has any other responsibilities as a U.S. Senator. Perhaps 80 percent of its dialogue serves to list and reenact facts about the use of EIT, and while that’s educational, it’s also clunky. Bening makes the most of her situation, but Feinstein’s role is to underline the significance of what Dan is sharing in his briefings by asking well-timed, clarifying questions like, “So what you’re saying is…” The Report doesn’t turn off this faucet of information until the credits roll.
Because most characters exist to hose you with details, they don’t transcend into human-like conversation or development. Most CIA members we meet appear incompetent, irresponsible, or straight-up nefarious; the disturbing torture scenes make it difficult to argue with that, but I wish there’d been more room for plagued characters like Tim Blake Nelson’s physician’s assistant and Jon Hamm’s Chief of Staff, neither of whom know how to reconcile their internal conflicts with external pressures. Dan expresses an empathetic view that decisions were made out of a post-9/11 fear, but we don’t see that vulnerability when they justify their actions.
The exception to all this, of course, is Dan. I know at this point I’m just joining in with a loud choir, but Adam Driver, guys, Adam Driver. The Report lives or dies by its lead, and Driver doesn’t let you see anyone else in this role of shattered idealism and frustrated conviction. He’s the only actor who makes this movie’s script work on his terms, and he elevates it to something more comparable to recent historical issue dramas like Spotlight and The Post. This is just another high of his 2019, which started with an Oscar nom for BlackKklansman and will cap with The Rise of Skywalker. His talent and momentum remind me of our cultural fever for Jennifer Lawrence a few years ago, and while his public appearances haven’t been as GIF-ready (memorable SNL appearances aside), Driver’s charisma still has a je ne sais quoi that won’t let you look away whether he’s playing drama, comedy, or with a lightsaber.
Considering Dan is the only one living in a character-driven world, The Report is only somewhat successful as a movie, but The Report still accomplishes what it wants to. It condenses the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program into a persuasive and concise movie, and it helps even the least familiar person understand the weight and impact of our country’s choices in the War on Terror. (Say what you will about last year’s Best Picture nom Vice, but I don’t think it accomplished anything close to that.) A documentary format would have been a better fit for this story so chock full of facts, but, hey, I also just spent two hours with Adam Driver, and I could watch him read the phone book.