Fri. Sep 20th, 2019

Toronto Review: Scott Z. Burns’ ‘The Report’ is an an essential celebration of the pursuit of truth

Scott Z. Burns’ film is an engrossing, gripping look at one of the most crucial and eye-opening reports in US history

Known for his intriguing script collaborations with Steven Soderbergh, Scott Z. Burns crafts a sophisticated film that delves into the excruciating process of researching, creating and publishing one of the most pivotal reports in US investigation history: the Enhanced Investigative Techniques employed by the CIA in the wake of 9/11.

The film, which mainly rests on Adam Driver’s shoulders, is part procedural, part courtroom (or bureau room to put it right) with little attention to typical fireworks associated with this type of film. With a sharp focus on one man’s incredible passion and determination, and his 5-year journey to bring the report to light, Burns crafts a film that stays away from being sentimental and focuses solely on the facts, details, findings and procedures that hindered and ultimately contributed to the difficult birth and release of the report.

The film can be regarded as a companion piece to Spotlight, another film that focuses on the importance of truth, the rights of the American people to know, and the relentless pursuit of wrongdoing to highlight a core issue long overshadowed, deliberately ignored or downplayed by those in power.

Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) is a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence. After proving his impeccable qualities and eye to detail, he is tasked with leading a US Senate investigative report looking into the CIA’s use of torture techniques – known as Enhanced Investigative Techniques – and on which over $80 million from taxpayers’ money has been spent. When hundreds of thousands of recording tapes and documents are destroyed, Jones’ mission becomes further complicated in his pursuit of truth. He forms a small team who aid him in the investigative process – and the result is over 7,000 pages of stunning and troubling findings of inhumane techniques employed by the CIA on over 119 detainees.

The film moves at a solid pace, taking us from one roadblock to the next, as Jones navigates bureaucracy, lack of accountability and attempts by the CIA to ‘turn the page’ and move on rather than hold its operatives accountable. In focusing on the facts, the film takes a rather cerebral approach that perhaps lacks the raw emotion that has made films such as Spotlight stand out and earn accessibility among less informed members of the general public. In following a more matter-of-fact approach, the film succeeds in laying out a detailed thread of facts that hold the story of the torture report together, but keeps the audience at a distance. The final output is a mix of docu-style, dramatized news report and an orchestra of sharp performances, led by Driver’s committed performance as Jones.

What the film lacks in emotional depth and engagement it makes up in pace, well-structured screenplay and excellent editing which keeps the audience intrigued and veers into political thriller territory. Aided by sparse but effective music, effective cinematography and sophisticated production design that helps audiences re-live the story in the most accurate way possible.

Verdict: A dense, gripping retelling of a crucial moment in US history, THE REPORT is an important film that may lack the emotional engagement of similarly themed films but is nevertheless a strong account and an essential celebration of the pursuit of truth.

Grade: B

This review is from the 44th Toronto International Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release The Report in select theaters on November 15 and then on Prime Video November 29.

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