"Good, but Slightly Overbroad and One-Sided, with Minor Inaccuracies"
What You Need To Know:
THE REPORT has a strong moral worldview. The protagonist works relentlessly to expose some painful truths the CIA seems to be hiding. Happily, the movie argues people should be skeptical when it comes to what government officials say. However, although the movie reveals some important information and makes some good points, it’s slightly overbroad, simplistic and one-sided. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for that and for gratuitous foul language and disturbing scenes of intense interrogations of suspected Muslim terrorists. THE REPORT is also often wordy and dramatically soft.
THE REPORT follows former FBI agent Daniel Jones, a Democrat investigator on the U.S. Senate’s Intelligence Committee, who’s asked in 2009 to do a deep investigation on what the CIA did when they allegedly tortured suspected Muslim terrorists in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. To help with the case, Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and the ranking Republican member assign three Republican and three Democrat staffers to help Jones. They are ordered to conduct the confidential investigation in a small, dark office with no windows. However, shortly after Jones begins the investigation, the Republicans back out of the investigation when the CIA refuses to let any of its officials be interviewed because President Obama has ordered the Attorney General to consider prosecuting CIA interrogators. Jones is left with only the Democrat assistants to help him.
At this point, as Jones and his assistants investigate government files, flashbacks occur that allegedly show the unjust ways 119 men were tortured. This is where the movie gets really R-rated. Viewers are exposed to naked men being kicked and beaten. CIA interrogators dump freezing buckets of water on their heads, sticks tubes of harsh liquid into their bodies, and use waterboarding where they inject heaps of water into a man’s mouth, essentially drowning him while he remains conscious. These scenes are enhanced with loud, screamo music, where the lead psychologist on the scene uses to force the men into a state of chaos and the inability to sleep, with the goal to get them to reveal information. The flashbacks show CIA interrogators employing these “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Abu Zebaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The CIA claims that the use of such techniques led to important information, including the family name of Osama bin Laden’s courier that eventually led to the American raid in Pakistan that resulted in bin Laden’s death. However, Jones finds information that the techniques led to no important intelligence facts. He also finds that the CIA learned of the courier’s family name from a captured Muslim terrorist BEFORE the man was subjected to enhanced interrogation. In addition, though the CIA claimed that Zebaydah was a high level official of bin Laden’s Muslim terror group, this claim turned out not to be true! This last point is a fact that MOVIEGUIDE® has confirmed through its research into the matter.
After two years of intense investigation, the Democrat assistants drop out. The investigation has consumed their lives and seems like a lost cause to them, because the CIA has stymied all of their attempts to release even a redacted summary of their classified report. Jones refuses to let the truth get buried, however. He continues working on his investigation and trying to get an unclassified summary of his findings publicly revealed for three more years. During this time, he compiles a list of 119 men who were allegedly tortured by the CIA and discovers documents revealing how they were harshly interrogated and tortured.
More alarming, perhaps, is that the CIA paid Dr. Jim Mitchell, the psychologist who helped invent and apply the enhanced interrogation techniques, and his colleague more than $80 million dollars of taxpayer’s money to carry out these brutal methods of torture. After all of this abuse and money spent, the movie asserts that none of it worked. Essentially, Jones and the movie claim that the CIA tortured 119 men using enhanced interrogation techniques, but not of the interrogations using these techniques led to any actionable intelligence in the War on Terror. It’s important to note, however, that, after the final report came out, Mitchell denied its basic findings and continues to do so, even though he’s now retired. Sadly, the movie doesn’t contain any of Mitchell’s objections to the report’s basic findings. Readers can find comments about what happened from Dr. Mitchell and his colleague, Dr. John Jessen, in the following two links, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/18/james-mitchell-cia-torture-interview and https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/20/us/cia-torture.html.
Eventually, the movie follows Jones as he slowly and painstakingly finalizes his report and reveals it to various leaders. He reports all his findings to his boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee (played by Annette Bening). In the end, after a long-winded battled between Jones trying to report at least an unclassified summary of the report publicly, and the CIA trying to shut Jones up, the two parties come to a middle ground. Jones releases a lengthy report on the issue but changes all the names of the CIA officials directly involved. Shortly after this report is issued, President Obama, who earlier in the movie was reluctant to support the public summary when pressed by Senator Feinstein, decides to forbid the CIA and the U.S. government from ever using these enhanced interrogation techniques again.
THE REPORT has a strong moral worldview. The protagonist works relentlessly to expose the truth about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program in the War Against Islamic Terror. His work also shows that the government can’t always be trusted and should not be fully trusted. THE REPORT also discloses how having too much power can lead people to do terrible things. It also stresses the importance to stand up for what is right. The movie clearly demonstrates the importance of these various themes, but the movie itself is not an easy watch. There are a handful of flashbacks in the movie’s first part that showcase the different methods of torture the CIA used. The movie mostly deals with the interrogations of Zubaydah and Sheikh Mohammed, but it also shows CIA interrogators dumping ice water on one Muslim prisoner and letting him lie in his cell overnight. This results in the man’s death from hypothermia, and the interrogators never get a chance to discover what the man knows or doesn’t know (a true story). The different settings surrounding these scenes relieve the boredom of the movie’s rather talky debate scenes, but the scenes of alleged torture are on the opposite end of dull: they’re simply too much. The movie’s last two-thirds has too many long-winded, wordy scenes strung together between Jones and different government officials as Jones reports his findings, defends his findings and then tries to get an unclassified summary of his findings publicly revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee. This doesn’t always make for dynamic, riveting storytelling.
Despite the movie’s apparent Pro-Democrat and Anti-CIA attitude, President Obama and his CIA Director, John Bennan, don’t come off too well in THE REPORT, but, then again, neither do President George Bush and his administration. Also, although Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein has shown plenty of outrage when it comes to the findings of alleged torture against the CIA, she hasn’t shown much outrage toward murders and assaults by illegal immigrants or the murder of innocent preborn babies by the despicable, racist abortionists running Planned Parenthood. So, she’s not as innocent and righteous as the filmmakers try to make her out to be.
All that said, THE REPORT has a strong moral worldview that applies a big dose of healthy skepticism to uncontrolled government power. The protagonist’s experience investigating the CIA convinces him that government officials can’t always be trusted and that power corrupts. Also, he works relentlessly to expose the truth wherever it leads. In the beginning, neither he nor Senator Feinstein have an opinion on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques work or not. In fact, Feinstein’s character notes at least once in the movie that she’s been a strong supporter of the CIA and national security in her Senate career, sometimes to the detriment of her reputation among her fellow Democrats. Thus, THE REPORT does impart some crucial information that people should consider when it comes deciding how to interrogate captured terrorists. The filmmakers and Daniel Jones make a good case for less extreme interrogation methods, such as building rapport with the captured person or trying to trick them to give up information.
However, although it does seem to be true that the enhanced interrogation techniques were not as successful as the CIA, or even Dr. Mitchell and his colleague, have claimed, the issue is not quite as cut and dried as the filmmakers behind THE REPORT assert in their movie. For example, in the Guardian article link cited above, Dr. Mitchell asserts that the actual congressional report’s description of how he and his colleague conducted the enhanced interrogations with the CIA is not exactly how they conducted those interrogations, but that the CIA will not release him from his nondisclosure agreement so he can discuss specifics and defend himself. In that interview, Mitchell also seems to accuse the report of doing a little Monday-morning quarterbacking regarding the CIA;s program. Also, in one line toward the end of THE REPORT, Adam Driver’s character of Daniel Jones seems to excuse the brutality of the Islamists that the CIA and America are fighting. Furthermore, although the movie’s opening shows TV footage of the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., this footage is only shown once. The movie could at least have referred to all the people who jumped out of the World Trade Center to their deaths, or some of the anguish the families of the 9/11 victims endured because of Osama bin Laden and his evil cadre of Muslim fanatics. The movie also never details to sufficient extent any of the other violent acts of terror, murder and mayhem that the Muslim terrorists in question, including Zubaydah and Sheikh Mohammed, committed, organized or supported. So, MOVIEGUIDE® asks, If you’re going to show the alleged brutality of the enhanced interrogation techniques used on evil Muslim terrorists like Sheikh Mohammed, shouldn’t you also show the brutality of the violent acts for which they’re accused as well? If not, isn’t that inherently unfair and unjust, not to mention unnecessarily one-sided?
Finally, THE REPORT reveals Dr. Mitchell and his colleague developed their enhanced interrogation techniques for the CIA from some of the techniques they had used to train American soldiers so they could resist physical interrogations by hostile forces whenever they themselves might be captured on the battlefield. If all these techniques are really “torture” for enemy combatants and terrorists, then aren’t they also torture for American soldiers? Conveniently, the movie and its filmmakers never ask this question, and neither do the movie’s media defenders nor do any of the journalists or politicians (including Senator Diane Feinstein and the late Senator John McCain) who love to cite the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on enhanced interrogation.
All in all, therefore, THE REPORT has its good points and its bad points. It’s not as good a movie as some of its supporters say, and it’s not as bad a movie as some of its detractors say. Looking at its good points and bad points, MOVIEGUIDE® gives THE REPORT three stars (it’s sometimes too wordy and needs more punch). MOVIEGUIDE® also advises extreme caution for too much unnecessary strong foul language, some extreme, intense violence, and some minor but important factual problems that paint with a broad brush and that result in a slightly superficial presentation that’s a little unfair and one-sided.