‘The Report’ gets the facts right, not the feelings

Scott Powell

Movies are fiction. Even when they’re about facts, they’re fiction. This isn’t to say that they are untrue or deceitful, simply that the kinds of truths expressed through film have no tangible, factual basis and are more abstract. That’s why we showcase them through film because they cannot be known or understood any other way. 

The problem with “The Report” is not that it get the facts wrong, but rather that it values its factual accuracy more than its emotional impact. This is because the facts that frame its narrative are too immediately significant to get wrong and too complicated to explain to the audience in a complete and comprehensive way within the framework of the story being told, making it so that they can only be understood when directly explained. This, in turn, hinders the deeper, universal truths that the film is trying to express. 


The story follows the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the employment of “enhanced interrogation tactics” used on suspected terrorist detainees in the years following 9/11 and the struggle by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) and lead investigator Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to make its unethical and savage results known to the public amidst the toxic partisanship on Capitol Hill.

It’s a standard but well-made political drama full of all the cool blue government office interiors, fancy D.C. cafes, flashing press cameras and dark, thumping underscoring seen in other movies of its type (“Vice,” “The Post,” etc.).

Both Driver and Bening deliver solid performances, with Driver’s impassioned and impulsive Jones balancing out the quiet command of Bening’s Feinstein. The dynamic effectively captures the dissonance between the rabid, almost obsessive kind of determination that powers the political machine and the more controlled C-SPAN-catered image of Washington projected to the public.

It’s this struggle — the struggle between the nation’s image and its integrity — that forms the central drama of the story. And it works well, or it would, if the situation acting as the lens through which this struggle is presented was not still an active minefield in Washington today.

This is where the movie falters. It tries to tie a final, tidy bow around a political battle that is still raging. Thus, in addition to telling the story it’s trying to tell, the film also needs to argue and defend the conclusions it is drawing about the facts it is dealing with, which in turn weakens the emotional impact it makes.

The film isn’t wrong to take a stance on a current, hot-button political issue, but its doing so forces it to sacrifice its overall impact as a work of art.”

In order for a story to be effective, the audience has to be able to accept that the story is either 100% true or that its truthfulness doesn’t matter. Art is about inspiring emotion, not reciting facts.

Movies are meant to be felt even if they are intellectual movies, and they are still meant to excite us by challenging our intellect. But we can only feel movies if we are willing to wholly submit ourselves to their narrative. And we can only do this if that narrative is one that is inconsequential to our own lives.

Although the narrative woven together in “The Report” is largely supported by the evidence available, the fact that it is still contested makes it difficult to fully commit to. Thus, in order to quell this potential unease its audience may feel, the movie must make the extra effort to defend and corroborate its story.

And this is, quite plainly, boring. Facts, as important and as necessary as they are, are boring, and of all the things we don’t want to feel while watching a movie, boredom is number one. Boredom is precisely what we go to the movies to escape. The movies serve as a reminder of the mysterious, unknown parts of life: the parts that compel us to want adventure, danger and discovery.

This isn’t to say that “The Report” is nothing more than a fact-dumping CNN newscast or that it doesn’t touch on these deep-seated universal themes or questions. It just isn’t able to go as deep in its exploration of them because it takes so much time justifying itself as a result of focusing on events that need to be explained to be understood.


The film isn’t wrong to take a stance on a current, hot-button political issue, but its doing so forces it to sacrifice its overall impact as a work of art. It forces it to compromise the depth of emotion it is able to reach and expose in its audience, which in turn makes it come off as contrived, despite its stylistic and performative power.

While not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, “The Report” just doesn’t seem prepared to wrestle with the actual raw emotional weight of its subject matter, so it tries to get its message across through simple recitation of unintrusive, unfeeling facts, dampening what could have been a much more gripping political drama.

Scotty Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus