Film Review: The Report

The Report provides background and detail on a story that needs to be told. Scott Z. Burns does this in an entertaining and informative manner. 

Senate staffer Dan J. Jones is tasked with leading an investigation into CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation programme. As he uncovers uncomfortable truths, some do not want his report to be published…

A story about the compilation and attempted publication of a lengthy report could be considered quite a dry subject matter. Nevertheless, in writer and director Scott Z. Burns’ capable hands, The Report is always interesting, occasionally tense, and at times engrossing. 

The narrative focuses on report author Dan Jones and the discoveries he and his team make when asked to compile a report on the CIA’s use of interrogation after 9/11. Based on real events, The Report does not necessarily reveal new information to those familiar with the well-covered story. However, what the film does is detail the story of how torture came to be used in interrogations, who approved of the techniques, and what the response was after details began to emerge. 

The protagonist is a mostly stoic figure; his methodical approach makes him a good entry point to view proceedings. Dan does lose his cool as his findings provoke a natural response, yet remains morally centred in a sea of self-interest and political manoeuvring. 

One of the highlights of The Report is how it represents Washington and these organisations which hold incredible power. Burns does not shy away from depicting the wrangling that went on behind closed doors, and the vested interests of powerful parties. Yet he is careful not to portray this simply as a cesspool with individuals fighting to cover their backs and get ahead. Credit is given to those who did stand up for what was right. The film focuses on a few senators (alongside some actual footage) to make this clear. 

Pacing in The Report is good. Burns provides a timeline on which the narrative takes place. There are flashbacks to some uncomfortable sequences, as well as the meetings that took place. This is necessary to flesh out the story; after all, the film could not have been two hours of a character reading documents in a basement. The film begins at a late point before jumping back to tell the story in a mostly chronological fashion. This opening gambit works well to create tension for the situation the protagonist finds himself in. 

Adam Driver delivers a strong performance. The cracks in his temperament come across as authentic. Annette Bening is also great as Dianne Fieldstein, while Scott Shepherd and Maura Tierney stand out among the supporting cast.

The Report is a solid investigative thriller. The film is topical, engaging, and necessary viewing. 

The Report is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Beautiful Boy

Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy is a saccharine drama which is redeemed by some strong performances from its cast.

Writer David Sheff is desperate to help his eldest son Nic, who is addicted to crystal meth. As Nick struggles with his addiction, David tries to help his son and hold his family together…

Based on the books by David Sheff and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy is a story about a father and a son. Although it focuses on Nick’s addiction, the crux of the film is this relationship. The story is told in a fragmented way, jumping back and forth from present day to childhood, before moving forward. In this way, Beautiful Boy develops the relationship between father and son, and helps to inform of their later motivations. As Nic’s addiction gets worse, it is interesting to see how the characters react. The narrative is winding; there are highs and lows throughout.

The fundamental problem with Beautiful Boy is that it seems to desperate to make the audience emote. The score is overdone, particularly in the climactic scene, to pull on the heartstrings. The callbacks to earlier moments feel a little contrived, and the contents of Nic’s journal seem farcical. The problem of drug addiction is sad and frustrating, yet writer-director Van Groeningen and co-writer Luke Davies prefer the sledgehammer to the subtle approach. 

The film works best when it is the leads are allowed to do their thing quietly. The story is engaging, and provides enough meat for its leads. Timothée Chalamet is great in the film, and has great chemistry with Steve Carrell. Their changing relationship is well written, and it is the quieter moments which have the most impact. Maura Tierney provides good support as Karen; she is convincing through a range of emotions.

Beautiful Boy exhibits the heartbreak of addiction; the family’s comfort underline how it could happen to anyone regardless of circumstance. The downside of the film is that it tries to hard to be a tearjerker.

Beautiful Boy is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.