Food: At this time of year, one of the best retro-style East Village bars (Boilermaker) transforms overnight into basically a snowball – clad with twinkle lights, garland, wrapping paper covering the tables, Santa hats over each seat, and surf decor everywhere. It becomes Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack! You can enjoy a fun menu of seasonal cocktails and enjoy Tiki-themed movies (one that was playing while I was there was “Blue Hawaii”).
Film: Scott Z. Burns (screenwriter of “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Informant”) makes his directorial debut with a disturbing, truthful story about investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, called “The Report.” Centering the perspective on the experience of Daniel Jones, the lead investigator for the US Senate, and played exceptionally well by Adam Driver, we follow his five year dissection of the 6.2 million documents of the CIA’s own accounting of their program. He summarizes his findings in a roughly 6,700 page report, which concluded that basically, the CIA hired two inexperienced psychologists, to whom they paid $80 million dollars, to enact new methods to get people to admit the truth. According to this report, these methods were particularly inhumane, and, by all accounts ineffective.
It is undoubtedly a heavy story, tasked with delivering a great deal of exhaustive facts about this particular event, in a way that – as it is a film – is entertaining and engaging for audiences throughout it’s two hour run-time. To this, I would say it mostly succeeds. Annette Bening is uncanny as Senator Dianne Feinstein, playing her role as head of the Senate’s investigation with a dignified countenance. Driver carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders, and in a role that is defined by building frustration and incomprehensible restraint, he masters the art of subdued emotion remarkably well.
Driver has, of course, been climbing the acting totem pole, continuing to prove the extent of his capabilities and this was a new type of role for him, forcing him to channel his emotions inward, due to the etiquette required in a role in the Senate. When speaking about hiring Driver for the part, Burns stated that “Steven Soderbergh, who worked with him on Logan Lucky and had said that there was absolutely nothing that guy does that ever gets close to boring.” It is also worth noting that Driver, himself, is a former Marine, and reading the script, admitted that he knew very little about the story, and that felt intriguing to him. He felt strongly that he wanted to be a part of telling about this event.
The film utilizes flashbacks to illustrate the findings, in order to mitigate the monotony that could result from such tedious reporting. It is less flashy and humorous than something like “The Big Short,” but the more serious tone felt appropriate considering the content. When speaking about the birth of the project, he said, in an interview with Rolling Stone, “At one point I thought maybe this could be a really dark, Catch-22 comedy, but as it I dug into it more deeply it wasn’t very funny.”
One element to historical dramas that can get dangerously muddled, especially when examining recent events, is the filmmaker’s bias coming across so heavily, that the story loses it’s grounding, or even worse, becomes preachy. (Despite popular opinion, I felt that “Vice” (2018) was a good example of a film that is pushing their agenda so hard, employing colorful exaggerations, and assumes the audience will know when to take it seriously or not, making the entire piece actually unsuccessful at telling a hard-hitting story, despite its intention).
Burns leans openly democratic in his personal life, but still digs equally at the flaws of each administration in allowing this part of history to go unchecked – taking digs at Obama’s administration for wanting to brush it under the rug. When confronted with the potentially unwelcome backlash he could receive for calling out a liberally – and, of course, pop culture does tend to lean liberal – beloved former President, he says, “The fact that we are not able to have our leaders on either side of the aisle be both good and bad, to make mistakes and do great things is part of the problem that we face as a country. Then we’re dealing idolatry and not democracy, and that can’t be the right thing.” The nonpartisan stance taken in a film that is designed to illuminate historical truth is crucial, or the filmmaker is just perpetuating a problem of misinformation, risking, as well, coming across as self-righteous.
“The Report” is well-done, if tedious at times, but overall, serves to deliver a compelling unveiling of a shameful part of America’s history that must be acknowledged and swallowed like any hard truth. After all, as Dianne Feinstein famously spoke, “America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes.”