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‘The Report’: Adam Driver proves his versatility with understated work as a torture investigator

Set after 9/11, the smart and engrossing drama takes a deep dive into the Washington politics of the 2000s

A Senate Intelligence Committee investigator (Adam Driver) finds evidence of CIA torture of detainees in “The Report.”
Amazon Studios

Adam Driver has two movies coming out this week.

Two more roles confirming he’s one of the most versatile and accomplished actors of his generation.

The only real similarity between Driver’s New York theater director in “Marriage Story” and his Senate Intelligence Committee investigator in “The Report” is they’re both consumed with their work to the point where they can barely remember the date, and they often have neither the time nor the patience for social pleasantries.

Both those these guys are often exhausting to be around — but you’ll never doubt their passion or commitment.

Writer-director Scott Z. Burns’ “The Report” is a true-story procedural in the vein of “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight,” though not at the level of those classics. It’s a smart, solid and engrossing paper-chase investigative story about one man’s dogged determination to shed light on the government-sanctioned, post-9/11 torture tactics used by American interrogators on foreign soil.

It’s rare when one dramatization of recent history calls out another, but “The Report” directly accuses “Zero Dark Thirty” of peddling the narrative that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture directly led to prisoners revealing key information that led to the capture and killing of bin Laden.

Driver’s Dan Jones is a smart and sincere and idealistic patriot who changed his college major the day after 9/11, with the goal of working in some sort of anti-terrorist capacity for the government.

An almost unrecognizable Annette Bening delivers a meticulously studied performance as Dan’s boss, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who charges Dan with leading the Senate investigation of the CIA’s use of EIT (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques) on more than 100 detainees believed to be high-ranking members or at least associates of Al-Qaeda.

Spoiler alert: Not all of them actually fit the bill.

Dan and a small group of staffers spend the better part of five years holed up in a secure dungeon of an office, where they’re allowed access to thousands upon thousands of communications. They can’t print out anything, they can’t leave with any documents or zip drives or files.

Writer-director Burns uses simple but effective graphics to move us along the timeline. There are some difficult-to-watch re-creations of American operatives, including a couple of highly paid civilian contractors, humiliating and torturing Muslim prisoners by stripping them naked, shaving their beards, depriving them of sleep, confining them in containers barely larger than a coffin, blasting heavy metal music for hours — and waterboarding them.

Dan is outraged. Not only are these methods antithetical to everything American stands for, it’s not even clear they’re effective. (Research and history indicate such methods only lead to the prisoner saying anything you want to hear, just to make it stop.)

“The Report” takes a deep dive into Washington politics of the 2000s. Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations come off well.

Jones is stunned to learn Bush was kept in the dark about the use of torture tactics and outraged by Obama’s reluctance to make a huge issue of his findings. (The recently elected Obama had promised a new era of bipartisan unity during his campaign, and he didn’t want to kick off his presidency with a public airing of “The Torture Report,” sure to result in congressional stances divided by party lines.)

Annette Bening plays Sen. Dianne Feinstein in “The Report.”
Amazon Studios

Even Sen. Feinstein, who comes off as the elected official hero of the story, urges caution and patience to Jones. She keeps telling Dan he needs more evidence, more concrete arguments to make their case. There’s no point in going public if they don’t have their informational ducks in a row.

“The Report” is filled with stellar supporting performances, including Jon Hamm as Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a veteran government operative who flashes a warm smile at Dan while telling him in cold tones he should drop this whole investigation before it derails his promising career. Ted Levine is brilliant as the director of the CIA, who can barely contain his impatience with these wonks digging up crap on Americans when the focus should be on taking out the enemy.

In “Marriage Story,” Driver knocks it out of the park with an actor’s dream of a role. He is given the opportunity to deliver long and passionate monologues, he has a performance number, he breaks down more than once. In “The Report,” he has to take his foot off the accelerator (for the most part) in playing a man who spends much of his time hunched over a computer, taking meetings in cars and parking garages, making his case in offices.

Equally powerful work in two strong films.