‹We know that the bland, dark-suited people who run the government can sometimes be villains. But it’s easy to forget that people in government can also be heroic.
Making stories about those people can be challenging as entertainment, but Scott Burns’ “The Report” manages to do just that, dramatize in deliberate, thoughtful chapters the investigation into America’s shameful descent into torture after 9/11.
The film debuted on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, played by Annette Bening, is the unlikely hero of this drama, as the veteran, centrist Democrat of California leads the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into allegations that the CIA tortured detainees.
Her staffer Dan Jones, played by Adam Driver, is even more worthy of note. He spends fully six years digging into mountains of evidence, seeking the truth of what the CIA did, and why. After writing a 7,000 page report and a 400-page summary that the CIA heavily redacts, he fights to see the report released to the public.
The film brings to life the antiseptic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” colloquially known as torture, which we now know the Bush Administration made legal with a special memo after the 9/11 terrorist attack sent the country and government into panic mode.
The threading of the legal needle is referred to frequently in the film as dependent on the result of the interrogation. If it works to get information that saves lives and if it does not confer “severe” and “permanent” physical damage, it is legal.
“It’s only legal if it works” is repeated several times in the film. And the problem was… it didn’t work.
The film depicts these acts: water-boarding, chaining detainees to the wall or the floor in “stress positions,” depriving them of sleep while blasting heavy metal music at impossible decibels.
Even when the person on the receiving end is the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it withers the soul.
It turns out we, our democracy, did this for four years and all along failed to extract meaningful intelligence through this process. George W. Bush, the film narrates, was informed of the EIT practices in 2006.
In seeking to understand how this all came to pass, Feinstein repeatedly confronts not only CIA director John Brennan, but Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm).
KSM was water-boarded 183 times, according to the movie. In a moment of devastating understatement, Feinstein asks Brennan why that would have been necessary if the procedure worked.
Burns along with the entire cast was present at the premiere, and so was Dan Jones himself. Driver was asked during the Q&A what he took away from playing Jones:
“Dan Jones is who you hope is in a basement somewhere, against the odds, being given responsibility,” he said. “Those are the people you fantasize are hidden in a basement in government, with moral conviction as their guiding force. It’s easy to lose faith in institutions. So I’m proud to be part of telling that story.”
The film is up for sale.