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Adam Driver stars as Dan Jones in The Report.

Courtesy of TIFF

  • The Report
  • Written and directed by Scott Z. Burns
  • Starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm
  • Classification R
  • 118 minutes

rating

Given the disorienting pace of the present-day news cycle, it’s forgivable if the 2014 “torture report” isn’t fresh on one’s mind. It was an ugly moment in U.S. political history that happened just a few years before the avalanche of ugliness became all too suffocating.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence compiled the stomach-churning report into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a fancy way of saying torture) on detainees during the “war on terror” era. It’s a stunning example of blatant disregard for moral code and values, which amounted to nothing more than a shameful stain. And while this story has the potential to be a head-of-a-pin-sized blip on the radar in our current dystopian news crawl, it’s since been given the cinematic treatment.

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The Report is a breakneck film that reveals the massive undertaking and exasperating challenges faced when trying to hold a government agency accountable for atrocities it actively tried to hide. It stars Adam Driver as Dan Jones, a committee staffer who is given the task of uncovering what he can about the wrongdoings of the CIA.

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We learn off the top that prior to starting the report, Jones was seeing someone but had to end it since the work became too consuming. It’s the only hint of a backstory we get into his character – or any character – yet we don’t need much more. The performances are mostly what drive this film, which is otherwise drab in its presentation.

Those yearning for aesthetic verve had better look elsewhere; much of The Report takes place inside cold, concrete government buildings. The occasional backdrop of mahogany wood panelling is the closest to warmth you’ll experience in two hours.

Annette Bening appears as unflappable California senator Dianne Feinstein.

Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of TIFF

Despite a cast consisting of dozens of similarly uniformed civil servants and politicians, including Jon Hamm as chief of staff Denis McDonough and Michael C. Hall in a minor role as CIA lawyer Thomas Eastman, every player brings an urgency and presence to their performances.

Major kudos to costume designer Susan Lyall, whose work manages to make a statement on the homogeneity of the staid bureaucrat ensemble. Annette Bening, who plays Dianne Feinstein, the unflappable senator from California who spearheaded the report, only wears a variation of the same outfit: a stiff suit with pearls or a stiff suit with a silk shawl. The only thing that changes is the colour of the fabrics.

The film takes on a choppy foundation, jumping back and forth between time and location. It relies on a scratchy animated timeline to remind the viewer what year it is. One moment, we’re in the fluorescently lit windowless basement where Jones must toil away into near insanity; the next, we’re cast inside a dark cave-like torture chamber where a naked man is chained to the walls as heavy metal blasts from speakers.

This velocity, along with the performances, helps turn a movie that’s essentially about a 6,700-page report (eventually boiled down to 525) into riveting storytelling.

The Report opens Nov. 22 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, and Nov. 29 on Amazon Prime Video

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