Sometimes working to a tight budget really can be to a film's advantage. Scott Z Burns shot The Report for the relatively tiny sum of $8 million and, thus straitened, was required to clip the drama down to its rudiments. Indeed, "drama" might not be the right word for a movie that so relishes the clerical and the procedural. Busy Adam Driver is intense as Daniel J Jones, the senate investigator tasked with looking into the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" (that's "torture" to you and me) in the aftermath of 9/11.
Hitherto best known as a screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh, Burns eschews any romantic subplot for an intense focus on Jones's burrow through the archives. Occasional diversions to CIA interrogations are alternately horrifying and blackly funny. There is an awful sense that the operatives are redrawing reality to justify behaviour that is as unproductive as it is morally indefensible. Jones later confirmed those conclusions. The authorities knew the process wasn't working, but they kept up the waterboarding and the sensory deprivation.
The main body of the film is not shy in alluding to All the President’s Men and related conspiracy flicks of the early 1970s. Burns’s screenplay doesn’t quite generate the same level of personal jeopardy. The security guard’s constant reminder that no classified documents leave the building points us towards a potential stretching of the rules, but, for the most part, Jones’s greatest challenges are redaction and obfuscation. By the time the report is ready, the Obama regime, though not directly implicated, is back-pedalling to save their allies embarrassment. Is there no way out?
Shot in 20 shades of gloom, parking lots giving way to murky ill-lit offices, the picture brilliantly conveys the experience of fighting for the truth when all around you would settle for lies. Yet The Report is not unequivocally pessimistic about the process. Senator Dianne Feinstein, in the unshowy form of a dressed-down Annette Bening, is here to demonstrate that some politicians will still fight to shed light in the darkest corners. The report itself emerged with huge lumps of black obscuring some of the most shaming episodes. But it did emerge and it did confirm that the CIA behaved like thugs. Make of that what you will.
Opens on November 15th