Let’s get one thing clear from the jump: "The Report" is a two-hour movie about a U.S. Senate committee investigation.
The movie — which screened at Austin Film Festival in October and begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Nov. 29 after a limited theatrical release — tells the true story of Daniel J. Jones. He’s a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who helmed an extensive investigation into the CIA’s use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" at secret black sites in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The performances in the film are stellar. Adam Driver plays the idealistic Senate staffer determined — with obsessive intensity — to bring a dark truth to light. Annette Bening puts in a wonderfully nuanced performance as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Jon Hamm plays Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff, as the consummate D.C. insider, and Maura Tierney is chilling as a steely CIA operative.
But the bulk of the movie’s action vacillates between intent typing on computers and a series of contentious, closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill. Consequently, it’s much more exciting than watching C-SPAN, but a little light on heart-stopping jolts. Except for the torture scenes. There’s quite a bit of torture.
"The Report" brings to life the visceral horror of waterboarding, stress positions and various humiliation practices employed by interrogators. It also raises questions about the efficacy of the techniques, the dubious expertise of contractors hired to implement them and the supposed guilt of many of the detainees.
Those very difficult and very important questions are the film’s core, exploring the way an act of terrorism on American soil alters the national psyche. What are we are willing to accept as a justifiable response? Are we willing to relinquish our respect for basic humanity? To keep our country safe, who will we become?
"The Report" might not be a nonstop thrill ride, but it brings to life an ugly chapter of recent American history that many in power fought to hide.