Idealistic staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) is tasked by his boss Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead an investigation of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was created in the aftermath of 9/11. Jones’ relentless pursuit of the truth leads to explosive findings that uncover the lengths to which the nation’s top intelligence agency went to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a brutal secret from the American public.
There's a moment in 'The Report' when Adam Driver stands in stony silence before a TV as a news report glibly speaks about Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty', when just minutes before and after that moment, we see horrific details of torture by the same people of that movie. In fact, 'Zero Dark Thirty' opens with Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke's character conducting the kind of "enhanced interrogation" that this movie is investigates. It's enough that Driver's character doesn't even flinch or react to it, his lack of response says more than anything really necessary.
That's what 'The Report' really is, when you come right down to it - an antidote to the kind of jingoistic "we did what needed to be done" bullshit that Americans have been churning out since 9/11 and the Iraq War. There is no ceremony, no flagrant or willful compounding of the facts, no swirling conspiracies or deep-dive discussions about the heart of American foreign policy. It's one group of staffers, locked in a basement, poring over horrific details and confirming the facts that nobody wants to face - namely, that the US engaged in torture and that it was ultimately proven to be completely ineffective.
There's a sickly feeling throughout 'The Report' that is almost setting you up for an anticlimax. Anyone who watches enough of these movies, especially in today's cynical age, knows that it's not going to end the way we want it to. Very often, those at the core of it all escape any kind of justice or retribution. In fact, they're protected in a way that would make your teeth grind and your heart sink. 'The Report' knows this well, but doesn't find any way to really ground that energy. Quite honestly, you'll walk out of 'The Report' fuming with anger. Maybe that's the point.
Driver's performance throughout is restrained, measured and with an intense focus that's never showy or always natural. Annette Bening appears in and out of the story, acting essentially as a sounding board for what Driver's team has just uncovered and guiding them to the next stage. Supporting characters flow in and out, such as 'House of Cards' alum Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, not to mention Maura Tierney and Tim Blake Nelson. They're all there, but it's really Driver driving (oh dear) the story.
When you come right down to 'The Report', it's a dour and grim retelling of a dour and grim story. It can't be flowery, it can't be all that Hollywood bullshit, it has to be real and it has to be this serious. It's just a shame it's not all that entertaining.