‘The Report’ rings true as a cinematic political thriller
Throughout the years, no matter what actual politics dominate our world, movie audiences have flocked to theaters to watch political thrillers. From “All the President’s Men” in the 1970s to “The Post” a couple of years ago, these popular movies help us escape real situations, interpret current headlines, and reflect on past events.
If you enjoy an entertaining political thriller now and then, “The Report” plays all the right chords in its tale of mystery, sabotage and intrigue. Trying to make sense of how the U.S. treated prisoners after 9/11, the film reaches beyond published accounts of these events to consider how far a government should go to protect its people. With some important things to say, and two strong lead performances, “The Report” deserves to be seen, and respected, despite a slight familiarity in its approach. The film looks and sounds like many political thrillers we know. There’s even a secret meeting in a dark parking lot, right out of “All the President’s Men.”
As “The Report” begins, the U.S. Senate has become curious about how the government interrogated foreign prisoners about the attacks of September 11. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein takes the lead to get to the truth, she appoints staff member Daniel J. Jones to head the investigation. Moviemaker Scott Z. Burns puts together a complicated tale of the years that Jones devotes his life to researching if our government deceived the public while Feinstein balances the risk and reward when considering her stand on this controversial issue.
At the movies, nothing comes easy in a political thriller. Jones, strongly played by Adam Driver in his second award-worthy performance of the year, runs into every possible roadblock in his efforts to shine a spotlight on truth, ultimately abandoning other parts of his life to focus on bringing these facts to the public. But his task isn’t easy. For every detail Jones uncovers, someone seems to have an agenda to get in the way of its release, leaving the staffer uncertain who he can count on, even the senator who sponsors the work.
How Dianne Feinstein comes to life — in the work of Annette Bening — is the film’s discovery. This actress, always inventive in how she builds a character, reaches beyond any temptation to imitate Feinstein’s mannerisms and inflections to create a fully-dimensional view of a public servant torn between priorities. While other actresses may have overplayed the role, Bening demonstrates her mastery of nuance in her subtle take on how this master of her role balances the practicalities and priorities of a sensitive discussion. The actress makes us believe in the politician’s authenticity without overlooking the weaknesses. Every time Bening does a film, she brings her character to life; this time, she makes us believe in the authenticity of Feinstein’s conflicts without apologizing for the ambiguity in the senator’s actions.
While “The Report” recreates a period in American history that many may want to forget, it never forgets that a political thriller’s first job is to entertain. Yes, the film makes us think. And, like the political thrillers it brings to mind, it makes us glad we spent time at the movies.
Film Nutritional Value: The Report
Content: High. A U.S. senator finds her voice as a nation discovers the courage to say, “bring us the truth.”
Entertainment: High. As serious as the challenges the film recreates, the remarkable performances from Annette Bening and Adam Driver celebrate the humanity of the characters.
Message: High. No matter that the film follows the political thriller recipe, the lessons of the choices people make ring true.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it takes to discover and reveal the truth makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your teenagers, talk about what truth can mean to a nation.
“The Report” is rated R for “some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture, and language.” The film, available in theaters and on Amazon Prime, runs 2 hours.