Telluride Film Festival: Writer and director Scott Z. Burns delivers a tightly drawn docudrama with “The Report,” a film that premiered out of Sundance and has now screened at Telluride. Adam Driver stars as real-life US Senate Intelligence Committee staffer Daniel J. Jones. Both Driver and Jones were present for the unveiling of what will certainly be one of the better films this weekend.
In the wake of 9/11, the CIA switched their tactics regarding questioning detainees to what was later called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs). Their methods included sleep deprivation, mock burials, and waterboarding. Working with Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), Jones is hired on to investigate the systematic approach the CIA used in the decade following the attacks on The World Trade Center and Pentagon. Jones’ thorough report detailing the fruitless forms of torture would tally nearly 6,700 pages, despite the CIA’s attempts to thwart his recordings.
Adam Driver has been the talk of the festival. First with Noah Baumbach’s “A Marriage Story” premiering Saturday evening, and now with “The Report.” Both screenings included a tribute to the actor, and you could feel the excitement over his burgeoning career in the audience reactions and gondola conversations following each film. Burns, in fact, credited the film coming to existence in large part due to Driver. Both he and frequent collaborator, Steven Soderbergh, discussed finding someone who would not make the scenes overtly emotional, and instead portray Jones’ mental state through their eyes. Soderbergh, who had worked with Driver on “Logan Lucky,” suggested Driver for the role, and the rest was history.
Burns does an outstanding job showing how half the country believed these techniques would protect the country from further harm, while the other half felt it would be doing the exact same thing by exposing their methods. He captures the tale of principles and ethics effectively this way. While this is only the second feature film he has directed, Burns’ flourishing resume includes other real-life political chicanery like “The Informant!,” as well as “Contagion” and “Side Effects,” which are based more in the realm of “what if?” Add a blockbuster like “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and Burns seems capable of just about anything.
Driver is the standout in the film. As Jones, he captures the essence of a man single-minded in his convictions to see the job through at any cost. The rest of the talented cast includes Bening, Jon Hamm (as the 26th White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough), Maura Tierney (as a fictionalized and merciless counter-terrorism head), and Tim Blake Nelson (as a morally concerned doctor who works as a Deep Throat-type character). Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, Michael C. Hall, and Ted Levine round out this rather deep troupe.
Filled with political intrigue, “The Report” is a graphic and jazzy procedural that captures a dark period in American history. It is a stylish thriller that is as swift moving as it is flushed out. It’s my kind of movie. Taut, astute, and holistically well-performed by one of the better ensembles we will likely see this year.
Adam Driver is having one of those historic years, folks. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.