By Connor Dziawura
There’s no “Hollywood-ization” in Vice Studios’ upcoming film “The Report,” which is set to receive a limited theatrical release and hit Amazon Prime Video later this month.
At least that’s what Daniel J. Jones says.
Jones, the former U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffer on whom the film is based, says writer/director Scott Z. Burns took few liberties, successfully condensing a seven-year journey into a two-hour film.
“There’s so much drama involved,” Jones says during a press junket at Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley.
“The Report” stars Adam Driver as Jones, who was tasked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) with investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Detention and Interrogation Program that was implemented in the years after September 11, 2001. That resulting 6,700-page report was finally released as a 525-page summary, nicknamed “the torture report,” in late 2014.
Also in the Steven Soderbergh-produced investigative drama—recently screened at the Scottsdale International Film Festival and the Arizona Science Center—is an ensemble cast that includes Jon Hamm, Sarah Goldberg, Michael C. Hall, Douglas Hodge, Fajer Kaisi, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, T. Ryder Smith, Corey Stoll and Maura Tierney.
The film is told in a nonlinear fashion, featuring two timelines: Jones’ quest to bring the results of the investigation to the public, as well as the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program as it unfolds.
“It’s basically the story of someone overcoming a succession of obstacles,” Burns says. “The more invested he (Jones) gets and the more harrowing the truths he discovers, the more important it becomes to get those out.”
But it was originally conceptualized over half a decade ago as a more satirical film akin to Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Burns says. At that time his plan was to focus on James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who were reportedly inexperienced with interrogation, yet were paid more than $80 million to spearhead the CIA’s program.
Burns says he essentially scrapped everything and started anew when the Senate released its report in late 2014. He was shocked to discover that it was a “very well-funded and sort of diabolically conceived program.”
He ultimately reached out to Feinstein’s office in hopes of speaking with Jones, with whom he says he struck a rapport. He then redirected his attention to the investigation, inspired instead by the films of Sidney Lumet and works like Alan J. Pakula’s “The Parallax View” and “All the President’s Men” as well as Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor.”
“It struck me as an amazing story that was timely and significant beyond just the CIA’s program,” Burns says.
Jones, who also met with some of the film’s actors, says he was impressed with Burns’ attention to detail. The director, he says, “was already pretty steeped in the weeds by the time we connected.”
During Burns’ research, according to press notes, he met and spoke with military intelligence, Navy SEALs, psychologists, lawyers, senators, journalists, John McCain’s chief of staff, and a human rights investigator at Harvard. The film ultimately compiled hours of interviews with military and human rights experts as well as more than 120 different written sources, though it was primarily driven by the Senate report itself.
“I kind of geeked out on just talking to him (Burns) because so few people did read the report, and he was asking questions about footnotes and context, books he’d read, so I knew that it was in good hands,” explains Jones, who was at the time tasked with speaking to the press and academics about the report.
With the film’s release nearing, Jones wants audiences to take away an understanding of the importance of governmental checks and balances, as well as to look into the details of the report itself.
“We hope that, and I hope that, people watch the film and want to learn more and they take the lessons of the report itself and what Scott did and apply it to current problems and future problems,” says Jones, who is now president and founder of research and investigative advisory The Penn Quarter Group and nonprofit public-interest investigative organization Advance Democracy Inc.
“I guess the way that I look at it and the way that the movie sort of ended for me is that there are sort of two things that coexist,” Burns adds. “One is that our system, as flawed as it may be, can yield really remarkable results.
“There’s a line in the movie about ‘what country in the world would even do a report like this?’ Or as Sen. Feinstein says—and she said this in her speech on the day the report came out—that this program and what the CIA did are a stain, but that America is unique in that it’s able to acknowledge its mistakes.
“So on one hand, I hope that people look at it and are angry about what we did, but I also hope that they’re hopeful and motivated to see what we can be.”
“The Report” will receive a limited theatrical release on Friday, November 15. It will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, November 29.