All the President’s Men was a game-changer when it came out in 1976 and remains a yardstick by which other topical true-life thrillers are measured. Writer-director Scott Z. Burns freely admits that he drew inspiration from that film and others of that period when fashioning The Report, but he has nothing to apologize for. His film can stand alongside its predecessors as a first-rate piece of journalistic drama.
His goal was to produce a timely film that wouldn’t make viewers feel as if they were taking medicine. Here, too, he has scored a bull’s-eye. The film has great narrative momentum and manages to impart a great deal of information clearly without getting lost in the weeds. One reason is the choice of Adam Driver as his real-life protagonist, Daniel Jones, a Senate staffer who is handed the daunting assignment of investigating the C.I.A.’s use of what they call “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the years following the 9/11 attacks.
Jones works directly for California Senator Dianne Feinstein (played quite well by Annette Bening) but comes to learn that while she supports the investigation she has to weigh political considerations and call her shots. This becomes difficult for Driver to stomach as he uncovers layer after layer of secrets and cover-ups. Among other things, he learns that the use of EITs (as they call the use of torture) is not a Democratic or Republican issue but a morass of lies with blood on many hands. Despite being warned, Driver not only becomes emotionally involved but obsessed with finding the truth and making it known.
The Report is solid and straightforward, with Driver serving as an everyman character encountering issues and roadblocks he’s never dealt with before. Burns surrounds him with good actors, even in small-ish roles, who add flavor to the proceedings. Bening, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Tim Blake Nelson, and Maura Tierney are standouts in the rich ensemble. The film doesn’t whitewash or simplify its narrative but I found it thoroughly absorbing and—just like its hero—terribly frustrating.