Perhaps the biggest structural challenge Burns’ script succumbs to is adding suspense without feeling forced. While other journalism films like Spotlight are presented in chronological order and constantly uncover new, damning information, THE REPORT skips back and forth across its timeline because there are essentially just a handful of key facts: the CIA used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects, they were aware of how unethical (and illegal) this could be, then there was a coverup. Since the audience is given all of this information within the first act, everything else feels like Burns is repeating himself to pad the runtime. I was unaware of the real-life report and believe it serves an important function, but don’t like having an argument shoved down my throat via similar examples. The torture scenes are harrowing yet compellingly shot and an effective technique for breaking up events, proving the value of showing instead of telling. Nevertheless, Burns leaves these too few and far between.
Adam Driver stars as Dan Jones, lead investigator working on behalf of the U.S. Senate and the kind of thankless, pragmatic American Hero archetype which makes the film feel a little outdated. For instance, the final shot literally follows Jones leaving the Senate building on foot, a cliched symbol for his humility and tireless commitment. I think it’s fair to say Driver is a divisive presence—his voice alone reminds me of a Kermit the Frog impression—though I’ve previously always found him to be good if not great (come at me, Star Wars fans). Unfortunately, here the dull script leaves him stuck in two modes: monotonous mumbling and weirdly unemotional yelling. Seriously, the latter is as if Burns’ note was merely to say the words louder. Anyone who was still on the fence about Driver won’t be won over by this performance; it’s their loss, but still a shame.
Annette Bening is the only other cast member with a sizeable role as Jones’ supervisor, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Despite being given several anti-torture and anti-corruption monologues which seem primed to show off her range, Bening strangely doesn’t seize these showcase moments. They’re left feeling flat, much like the rest of the film. Consequently, most scenes with Feinstein are relegated to quietly keeping Jones from losing focus or ruffling feathers, truly wasting Bening’s talent. Indeed, a waste of talent is the best description I could provide for THE REPORT; Burns himself has delivered some great scripts in the past even if 2019 hasn’t been his most successful year (he also penned the Netflix stinker The Laundromat). I can’t stress enough that the events inspiring this film are worth finding a summary and learning about to help ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. It’s not an inherently boring topic, just one which has been presented as such here.