In “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester Pryne and Arthur Dimmesdale stray from their puritanical ways to commit adultery by night. In “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Dr. Jekyll is unassuming and meek during the day, but when the sun goes down he becomes the ominous and unhinged Mr. Hyde. Though both fictional, these classics reflect the very real human capacity for secrecy and duality. This quintessential literary theme of duplexity can be applied in the real world to the relationship between the U.S. government and the people, a relationship built on the belief that rulers will act justly. Perhaps we are too generous with our trust, forgetting that it is human nature to turn to immorality when we think that no one else is watching. Under the cover of darkness and away from society, what was once so clearly right or wrong suddenly becomes blurred. In “The Report,” director Scott Z. Burns explores this theme of light and dark, illuminating that we often lose ourselves in the darkness, forgetting that eventually the light will come out, and when it doesn’t, secrets will seep through the cracks and the truth will be exposed.
When U.S. Senate employee Daniel Jones (Adam Driver “Paterson”) is assigned by his boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening “American Beauty”), to look into a post-9/11 CIA interrogation program, he never could have imagined what he discovers. Despite Feinstein’s warnings not to get too emotionally invested in the investigation process, Jones cannot help but become enthralled in the disturbing and unethical methods pursued on suspected Al-Qaeda associates. Through Jones’s work, an internal war of sorts is born, when tensions erupt and heads butt between the Senate and the CIA. The more that Jones uncovers, the more entwined in the messy web of inter-government bureaucracy he becomes, as he learns that almost nothing can be trusted at face value and that red tape is thick.
Much of “The Report” revolves around the never-ending barriers to entry that exist within the government itself. With so many layers of authority, truth and morality both become problematically subjective. Both the Senate and the CIA have different sides of the story regarding what really happened during the interrogation program. Was the treatment of potential Al-Qaeda captives deemable as torture? Was the treatment of these captives humane? In the fearful, frenzied wake of 9/11, the central dispute of the film revolves around the perceived subjectivity of these questions and the breakdown of ethical boundaries.
Most outstanding about the film is Adam Driver’s acting chops. Notorious for his quirkier roles in HBO’s “Girls,” Jim Jarmusch’s quiet arty flick “Patterson” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” I was not expecting to see Driver portraying such a serious character. Nonetheless, Driver excellently embodies Jones bringing the same intensity that we can recognize in his previous roles. A serious film that relies minimally on music, costumes or extravagant cinematography, Driver’s character’s emotional reactions drive the tone of the film and, in a sense, serve as its moral compass. Although Jones is not the only one bothered by the cruel methods of torture inflicted on the suspect terrorist affiliates, he is the only one who feels compelled to act on it. While the lack of effects and excitement create a few lags here and there, they are a testament to the fact that the film’s purpose is not so much to entertain as it is to educate and sober audiences.
And the overarching theme of light and dark? Jones’s research facility and the torture sites are located below ground, shrouded in mystery and concealed from the light of day. Though the research room is used for investigation and the caves are intended for torture, both facilities are secretive, buried beneath the ground and concealed from the light of day and the public eye. Through Jones’s classified mission and the CIA’s wrongful torture tactics, Burns illustrates the chilling reality that secrecy thrives and right and wrong become undistinguishable when no one can see.