Before a current Oscar race ends, another one begins in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The festival’s line-up includes many of the best indie films to come out for the year. Some land on streaming services or become modest box office hits. But a select few premiers with enough momentum to carry them into the awards conversation. We have seen titles like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Get Out,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Whiplash, “Boyhood,” and “Precious” shine outside of Utah this decade, with each receiving some gold come Oscar night. While it doesn’t happen every year, it seems this year could be one of those breakout years. With Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell“ already looking like a contender, one would think another film could join it in the race. Based on the buzz out of the festival, Amazon’s newest political drama, “The Report,” seems to be the other contender.
“The Report” follows Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate staffer assigned to investigate the CIA and their methods of torture following the attacks on September 11, 2001. Daniel, along with a team of investigators, finds the CIA tactics are inhuman methods of interrogation, leading to almost no positive results. With the help of Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), the group attempt to release their findings to the world. Instead, they realize how far the U.S government will go to make sure the public never reads their report.
Following the premiere at Sundance, praise began for Scott Z. Burns script as well as Driver and Bening’s performances. The film then left Utah and resurfaced in September in Colorado at the Telluride Film Festival. Our own Mark Johnson caught it when he was there, calling it “a graphic and jazzy procedural that captures a dark period in American history.” The reaction for “The Report” felt like the praise Todd McCarthy’s “Spotlight” got in 2015.
Both share the common bond of dedicated individuals investigating the truth. Just like Oscar nominees “All the President’s Men” and “The Post,” it doesn’t matter what the cost is; only the truth matters. These stories resonate with people because they are about someone out there fighting for the truth. Audiences cling to the idea our heroes can be the voice of reason in broken systems, being the ones to do the right thing when it matters. With this reasoning, Amazon thinks it can create similar Oscar magic.
The obvious categories “The Report” can compete in are Best Actor, Best Supportive Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Driver is already competing in Best Actor for “Marriage Story.” Some can see this as an issue for him, but both performances are strong and completely different than each other. While Driver will get more attention for his role in “Marriage Story,” he is the hero we are rooting for throughout “The Report,” and the film wouldn’t work without his stoic turn as Daniel.
Bening is no stranger to the awards race. She is a four-time Oscar nominee who hasn’t received a statue yet. She has a sizable role here, playing the well-known Senator from California. Though the field for Supporting Actress is crowded, she’s been heavily in the conversation since Sundance. If she can grab a nomination, look for her to go all the way to make up for the many years she went home empty-handed. As for Burns’ screenplay, if it were competing in adapted, he would have better shot for a nomination. Unfortunately, the screenplay is an original, meaning it could have a tough time getting past a loaded field. But the screenplay is stellar, covering the torture report thoroughly while also being entertaining.
Overall, there’s a lot to love about “The Report” awards chances. From its stellar script, confident performances, and fascinating subject matter, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. While it has work to do, it should play well on screeners and will be on Amazon Prime at the end of November. If Amazon plays their cards right, “The Report” can get into some big categories come Oscar nomination morning.