Just a month after its release, Amazon Prime’s “The Report” had already faded out of the pop cultural conversation with only a solitary Golden Globe nomination to show for it.
And then, on Dec. 27, this happened.
When the Secretary of State takes time away from advising the President of the United States on foreign policy issues to write an impromptu movie review, the movie itself is worth further discussion, I think. And there is certainly a lot in “The Report” to talk about.
“The Report” is a historical drama that takes place primarily in a five year stretch from 2009 to 2014, when U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, well-deserving of that Globe nomination) commissioned a small group of Senate staffers led by Daniel Jones (Adam Driver, as inscrutably bland as always) to look into the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques used by the CIA on 119 alleged Islamic extremists in the aftermath of 9/11.
And what are Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, you may ask? The program developed by retired Air Force psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen took the military’s torture endurance training program Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape and flipped it into a brutal interrogation protocol that involved everything from waterboarding to death threats to “rectal feeding”, which is just as nightmarish as it sounds.
Jones wrote his 7,000-page report after reviewing thousands of internal CIA documents. He determined that the United States not only used these techniques but that they were horribly ineffective in gaining valuable intelligence. His report is not what you would call a light read.
“Have you read the report?” Jones asks President Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm).
“It’s 7,000 pages Dan,” McDonough replies. “The Bible tells the history of mankind in less than that.”
“The Report” has been, by all accounts, just as exhaustively researched as the report itself. Director Scott Z. Burns worked extensively with Jones, now the founder and president of Advance Democracy Inc., in developing the script. He pulled many lines verbatim from C-SPAN videos, declassified reports and contemporaneous news accounts.
Knowing all this, you have to wonder just what Mr. Pompeo thinks is “fiction”.
If you don’t believe that prisoners were nearly drowned while being waterboarded, read page 86 of the executive summary of the report. If you don’t believe that CIA officials were rarely held accountable for death, injury and wrongful detention, see page 14. If you don’t believe that the CIA misrepresented the program’s effectiveness, see page 142.
It’s all there in black and white.
Pompeo’s problem with the film may be that it conflicts with his black and white worldview where “good guys” deliver justice to “bad guys”. There are no “good guys” in “The Report” or “bad guys” for that matter. It was the fog of war, Burns tells us. People were scared. Mistakes were made.
“You weren’t there, so you don’t know…what we were up against,” a CIA agent (Joanne Tucker) tells Jones. “You may not realize, but we were trying to protect this country from people who want to destroy everything we believe in.”
“You may not realize it,” Jones replies, “But we’re trying to do the exact same thing.”
As a movie, “The Report” (rated R for some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture and language) stumbles in places. Burns’ script is as wordy and hard to parse as the actual report at times. The depictions of torture are brutal and hard to watch. The acting, with the exception of Bening, is often unexceptional.
But “fiction” it is not.
Pompeo’s comments suggest that we need the report and “The Report” more than ever, because once we start believing that this behavior was fiction, we risk repeating the cycle all over again.
“You don’t really have a legal problem,” Jones’ lawyer (Corey Stoll) advises him near the end of the film. “You have a sunlight problem.”
Indeed. If behavior likes this stays in the dark – and the people of the United States and those in power choose to remain in the dark about it- there is no hope for change and for being the country our forefathers dreamt of.
“Truth matters”, as the tagline for “The Report” says. So watch “The Report.” Read the report. Let the sunlight in.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.