Is 2019 the year of Adam Driver? The lanky actor with the imposing baritone gives an excellent performance as an intrepid analyst fighting for the truth. With The Report, Adam Driver carries nearly every frame of the film with his compelling and unwavering performance. It’s easy to see why The Report was one of the most buzzed-about titles at Sundance earlier this year.
The only reason Driver won’t be getting an Oscar nomination for The Report is that he’s likelier to win the race for his showstopper of a performance in Marriage Story. (Plus that Star Wars movie will probably be a big thing.) But together, The Report and Marriage Story confirm that Driver is a rare combination. He has a character actor’s chops and a leading man’s presence. Drive proves himself one of the top actors of his generation with his work this year.
With The Report, Adam Driver illustrates his unique presence as an actor. He gives the kind of performance one might have seen from Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, or Gene Hackman in the 1970s: one of those committed star turns in a socially relevant film. The performance makes the politics of The Report resonate further, rather than be overwhelmed by the presence of a star, as we see the breakdown of the American way through the eyes of a dedicated civil servant. This riveting political thriller is an urgent and a chilling parable about the abusive reach of power that governments enjoy in the freest of nations.
The timing for The Report couldn’t be better, either. As the film hits theatres when the ball is finally rolling on impeachment hearings for Donald Trump, The Report asks audiences about the higher standard to which we should hold our governments and ourselves. Driver stars as idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones who uncovers shocking evidence when tasked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (an excellent Annette Bening) to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. The conclusions, which Feinstein called “a stain on our value and our history” when delivering the results of the report in the Senate in 2014, haunt America to this day.
Written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, The Report is one of those incendiary political dramas that will have audiences hooked, enraged, and hungry for change. As Daniel goes deep into covert territory, the film lays out the intricate network that shielded the USA’s dirty secret. There isn’t any note-taking permitted in the dank bunker in which Daniel conducts his research with his modest team. It’s a swipe in, swipe out Area 51 kind of place. From the minute The Report begins, one knows that such places exist only when they have something to hide.
As Daniel digs deeper into his research, the film flashes back to episodes of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in which two ludicrously overpaid theorists push detained suspects to extremes for information. Such images of torture will never cease to be brutal no matter how many times Hollywood repeats them. The stress positions, the sensory overload, the water boarding—they’re all pure hell to sit through. But that’s because they’re such blatant violations of human rights. The film lets audiences debate who the true terrorists are.
Burns makes his directorial debut with The Report after a string of notable screenwriting credits, including the Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, Contagion, Side Effects, and The Informant! He approaches this story with a dramatist’s flare and a journalist’s dogged eagerness to get the story right. It’s less objective journalism though and more like an incendiary opinion piece. The film is shrouded in post-9/11 paranoia. But it also conveys the errors this period of fear inspired. Burns lays out the facts while framing them within a well-honed and hugely entertaining point of view. The Report doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Even Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty receives a few side-eyed references that may have audiences questioning its status as one of the best films of the decade.
Particularly strong is its characterization of Senator Feinstein. Bening’ offers one of those perfectly calibrated supporting turns that one could easily take for granted. However, her cool-headed, well-tempered, and even-handed approach is outstanding. Bening puts audiences face to face with a politician who calculates the implications of such damning revelations. Feinstein disappoints us with her subdued and restrained interest in her colleague’s monumental research. But she remains a beacon of the dignity and level-headedness that America needed then and needs even more today. Bening’s performance is a standout in a strong supporting cast that includes Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, and an eerily icy Bush-era “patriot” embodied by Maura Tierney.
The Report holds George W. Bush accountable for the obvious war crimes of his presidency. But it’s also one of few American dramas that soberly note its disappointment in Barack Obama. Much of Daniel’s investigation occurs during the Obama years. The most distressing back-and-forth of the film occurs when not when Daniel connects the dots on the torture report. They come when he presents the truth and faces bureaucratic indifference from progressives. Despite his well-researched and seemingly irrefutable conclusion, Daniel faces ineffective pussyfooting from the Obama administration. To release the information might invite a compromise of democratic ideals, like Obamacare, if Republicans choose retribution over reflection.
The film asks audiences to consider what uneasy truths within just and democratic societies. And it’s through Daniel’s ongoing disillusionment with the system he seeks to uphold that debate becomes so compelling. When everyday citizens expect more of their nation than their Presidents do, a rigged system doesn’t do anyone justice. The Report is a brilliantly perceptive film for our times—and an incendiary drama that is absolutely necessary.
The Report opens in Toronto at TIFF Lightbox on November 22.
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