"The Report"- A Stomach-turning but Essential Watch

October 31, 2019

In The Report, writer-Director Scott Z. Burns offers an urgent contemporary spin on the classic political thrillers of 1970s American cinema; The theme of governmental accountability is joined by hot-button issues of Truth and language’s ability to communicate it. We follow the real-life trials of senate staffer Dan Jones as he investigates the post-9/11 barbarity of CIA ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. He fights against governmental pressure to bury his findings. 


 Image: The Report, dir. by Scott Z. Burns (Allociné.fr)


The anxiety created by Burns’ non-linear script is as absorbing as it is uncomfortable. By interspersing the grinding bureaucracy of various governmental committees with candid scenes of torture, the director exposes his audience to an almost sickening whiplash. We often wish that what is depicted is only a nightmarish fiction. However, the documentary inflections of Burns’ directing style, alongside grounded performances by a talented ensemble cast unwaveringly establish the film’s narrative as ugly truth. 


The political thriller genre is interestingly engaged with by Burns. More obvious deference to its conventions are found in characterisation. For example, we are led to wonder if our determined protagonist will go outside the law to get his report to the public. Credit here should definitely go to Adam Driver, who plays the lead sensitively, subtly balancing the Jones’ obsessiveness over his work with his steadfast principles. Despite this, the film ends up being more docudrama than thriller. Truth is never sacrificed for the sake of intrigue or entertaining sound-bites, as showcased in the clearly well-researched and at times factually turgid dialogue. 


The Report isn’t revolutionary. Clearly, other dark political dramas have gone before it and many will come after, but it remains prescient and very well-made. As all good docudramas do, Burns makes us face up to a shadowy chapter in history, and wonder how far we’ve really come, just as Dan Jones succeeded in doing to the US government. Films like The Report make us more vigilant; in the supposed ‘post-Truth’ era in which we live, this quality is as essential as it has ever been.


Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor



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