The Collegian
Friday, August 07, 2020

Film Fridays | "The Report" reminds us that morality and truth still matter

<p><em>Graphic by Carissa Gurgul</em></p>

Graphic by Carissa Gurgul

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers.

“If it's gonna come out, it's gonna come out the right way.” 

Based on a true story,The Torture Report” -- the word “torture” is deliberately redacted from the movie title -- follows Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), a staff member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as his boss Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) assigns to him a Senate investigative report into the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques during the aftermath of 9/11.

After discovering that the CIA has destroyed hundreds of hours of tapes of interrogations of Middle Eastern men -- 119 in total, some of whom were never linked to Al Qaeda -- captured and detained after 9/11 in unidentified black sites, Jones and his bipartisan team spend their days in a basement office combing through 6.3 million pages of documents to get the answer. As the months go by, the staff members leave the team one by one and Jones ends up seeking the truth alone. 

This truth-seeking journey feels dry and static at times, as we witness Jones pounding on his keyboard, examining the plethora of document pages on his computer screen, scribbling on a whiteboard or taping up photos and Post-it notes on the walls of his office. Yet, it serves its purpose well; it lets the facts, and our perception of them, tell the story.

You don’t have to be a political science major or a U.S. foreign policy expert to follow the storyline. The information regarding the whole composition of the report and the incidents included in it is neither complex nor excessive. 

What makes “The Report” hard to watch is the scenes of torture, depicting CIA contractors waterboarding detainees, slamming them against the wall and short-shackling them to the floor, blasting death metal music, in these unidentified black sites. These flashbacks show us the hard way what the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques program really looked like from its beginning till its end. And it looked bad. 

You may ask, “Are these graphic scenes necessary?” Perhaps not. Perhaps, director and writer Scott Burns could still get his point across without showing the graphic details, just like Tom McCarthy successfully did in “Spotlight.” However, “The Report” has to challenge the “West vs. Rest” mentality of its Western audience. An audience which lacks the empathy to relate to events and stories that are so far from home, and which is not used to viewing “the West” presented as the bad guy. In these cases, images and sounds may be more powerful than a mere narration of events.  

“The Report” loudly criticizes both the rationalized dehumanization of the detainees and the ineffectiveness of the CIA’s interrogation methods, which not only violated the Geneva Conventions but also provided zero counterterrorism information. The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques led detainees into states of agonized delirium. In the best case, they revealed some old contacts that the CIA had already been aware of. In the worst case, they left their last breaths in those black sites. 

Yet, in order to protect its credibility, the CIA presented to the U.S. government and the public that much counterterrorism information following the 9/11 attacks came from its enhanced interrogation techniques program. 

In “The Report,” Burns does not point the finger to a single political party or a single administration. The movie makes it explicit that former President George W. Bush was unaware of the CIA’s program, as former Vice President Dick Cheney was the one who gave the approval. On the other hand, the Obama administration, represented here by the former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm), also hindered the publishing of the report in order to reward the CIA for the killing of Osama bin Laden, and thus, the aiding of Obama’s reelection. 

The impartiality that Burns demonstrates is one of the movie’s biggest accomplishments and strengthens one of the movie’s main messages that when it comes to morals and truth, there should be no left or right side.

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In terms of acting, Adam Driver’s performance is so fine and balanced, depicting Jones’s silently obsessive concentration when working on his investigation, his intense outbursts and moral commitment to revealing the truth and finally, his resilience and determination to complete his assignment even when many U.S. government and CIA officials were fighting against it. Thanks to Driver’s performance I couldn’t help but identify with Jones’s feelings.

The report that Jones and his team composed was about 7,000 pages long, but only one-tenth of it was released in 2014.

“The Report” is an authentic, dark political thriller. Some scenes may shock you and morally infuriate you, and the harassment that Jones receives for simply trying to do what is morally right may have you wondering “Is this all worth it after all?” Eventually, “The Report” redeems us and reaffirms that fighting for truth is very well worth it, and for a nation to be able to look itself in the mirror, learn from its mistakes and acknowledge that truth must prevail may be what is truly patriotic.

This movie comes to remind us that the truth still matters, that we ought to keep our governments accountable. It’s a reminder that, unfortunately, we will always need because our human nature does not change, and we always end up forgetting. But “The Report” gives me hope that there are always going to be courageous filmmakers like Burns that will bring powerful and eye-opening stories to not let us forget the consequences of disregarding truth and accountability.  

“The Report” is now available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video if you have an Amazon Prime account.

IMDb rating: 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82 percent (critic), 83 percent (audience)

My personal rating: 8/10

Contact contributor Myrsini Manou-Georgila at myrsini.manougeorgila@richmond.edu. 

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