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October 31, 2019

Denver Film Festival - The Torture Report


Scott Z. Burns - 2019
Amazon Studios

Scott Burns' film, The Report will be receiving a brief theatrical release before getting its Amazon Prime release near the end of November. For the most part, with the emphasis on the true story elements, the film may play better on a home screen. What might be lost, unless one is watching on a good sized wide screen television, are the televisions in several of the offices, seen in the background with glimpses of the twin towers burning, Dick Cheney bloviating, and a teaser for Zero Dark Thirty, both pinpointing the time of certain events and also providing some side commentary.

Burns is primarily known for his screenplays for Steven Soderbergh, including the The Informant! and The Laundromat, also based on real life events. Unlike those films, which take some lighthearted jabs at their subjects, this is played straight. The film follows Daniel J. Jones, tasked with investigating what the C.I.A. euphemistically called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on behalf of the Senate Select Committee. Burns alternates between Jones' research with his small team, and the story of the psychologists and members of the George W. Bush administration and their rationale and development of what several people had identified as torture, used to get information from suspected Middle Eastern terrorists. What is dramatized is Jones' concern about that torture, the ways the C.I.A. attempted to cover up their activities, and the desire to make the extent of these activities public.

The reenactments of waterboarding and other activity is difficult to watch, some of it done in the form of low grade video documentation. While most of the film is carried by Adam Driver as Jones, there is also Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein, maneuvering between her own sense of justice and trying to create some consensus within the Senate through two presidential administrations.

What makes The Report timely is that it offers some perspective on the Mueller Report and the current arguments about Executive authority. Essentially, who is presenting the narrative, and what information is to be shared and with whom? Burns shows this when Jones' report is reviewed by the C.I.A. which demands redactions on information that has already been made public, blocking out major sections of a 500 page report. Perhaps what is most disturbing is the knowledge of the C.I.A.'s history in using torture, which documented past failures including their condemnation of similar techniques used by the Japanese and Germans during World War II. As that old adage goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 31, 2019 09:27 AM