The Report (2019 film)

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The Report
Theatrical release poster
Directed byScott Z. Burns
Written byScott Z. Burns
Based on(in part) the article
"Rorschach and Awe"
by Katherine Eban
Produced by
CinematographyEigil Bryld
Edited byGreg O'Bryant
Music byDavid Wingo
Distributed byAmazon Studios
Release dates
  • January 26, 2019 (2019-01-26) (Sundance)
  • November 15, 2019 (2019-11-15) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$275,000[2][3]

The Report (styled as The Torture Report) is a 2019 American historical political drama film written and directed by Scott Z. Burns that stars Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, and Maura Tierney. It depicts the efforts of staffer Daniel Jones as he led the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture following the September 11th attacks, covering more than a decade's worth of real-life political intrigue related to the contents, creation, and release of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.[4]

The film had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2019. It was released in theaters in the United States by Amazon Studios on November 15, 2019, two weeks before it began streaming on Amazon Prime on November 29. Critical reviews of the film were generally positive.


In early 2009, having just spent two years investigating the 2005 destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes,[5] Daniel J. Jones, a Senate staffer, is selected by Senator Dianne Feinstein to lead a review of six million pages of CIA materials related to the Agency's use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs). Jones and his small team of six get to work in a sensitive compartmented information facility at a covert CIA site in Virginia.

As Jones begins his work, the narrative shifts back to the September 11 attacks of 2001, with CIA employees at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC), including Bernadette and Gretchen, anxiously watching live videos of the attacks. At CIA headquarters a few days later, DCI George Tenet reports on his meeting at Camp David with President George W. Bush and CTC director Cofer Black. John Rizzo, the CIA's legal counsel, reports that the President has given the CIA powers to "capture and detain suspected terrorists." The next year, intelligence psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Elmer Mitchell are contracted to instruct the CIA in EITs.

Although he loses half of his team after the Department of Justice (DOJ) begins its own investigation of the CIA and the CIA decides to only allow its personnel to speak to the DOJ, Jones continues his investigation with his remaining staff: April and Julian. Jones meets with FBI agent Ali Soufan and learns more about the CIA's interrogation program, particularly regarding Abu Zubaydah. The interrogation of Abu Zubaydah is shown, contrasting the FBI's use of rapport-building with the CIA's use of EITs. Bernadette observes the sessions, and she defends the use of the new techniques. Soufan says he gathered crucial intelligence from Zubaydah before the CIA took over the interrogations,[6][7][8] though the CIA disagrees on what techniques are most effective and what results came from what approach.[9]

At a briefing with Senator Feinstein in her office, Jones describes evidence from the CIA's own records that prove the Agency knew Zubaydah was not a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda, as they falsely reported to the DOJ. After the CIA told the Bush administration that Zubaydah was a key player, they received authorization in the August 2002 CIA "Torture Memos" drafted by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo to use EITs on him, making Zubaydah the first detainee to be tortured.[10]

Raymond Nathan, a physician assistant with the Office of Medical Services who works at a CIA black site, secretly meets with Jones, saying he and other medical professionals had complained that the EITs were torture, but the only response they received was a cable from Director Jose Rodriguez telling them to stop putting their objections in writing. Nathan witnessed the waterboarding of Zubaydah, who lost consciousness and almost drowned during the procedure.

April and Jones uncover the story of Gul Rahman, who died from hypothermia in 2002 after CIA interrogators threw water on him and left him chained to the ground overnight in a 36 °F (2 °C) cell. Jones meets with Senator Feinstein and her staffer Marcy Morris to inform them about the CIA Inspector General's report of the incident. Jones also deduces that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had been told to not inform the President about the Torture Memos, which President Bush only learned about in April 2006.

Among the files provided to him by the CIA, Jones finds the Panetta Review, a harshly critical internal CIA review of the EIT program that was prepared in 2009 but never shared.[Notes 1] While watching TV at a bar after work, April, Julian, and Jones become discouraged as they watch a pundit on the news claim that EITs had yielded good intelligence and prevented terrorist attacks. Jones stays up all night to disprove the claims, and the CIA's own records show that crucial information it is claiming to have obtained by subjecting Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (aka "KSM") to torture was obtained by other means.

Seen in flashback, Mitchell and Jessen waterboard KSM in March 2003. Mitchell complains that, when waterboarded, Muhammad makes up lies to make it stop. Bernadette, who has been observing from another room, questions the contractors about the effectiveness of their techniques, but the torture continues.

The DOJ concludes its investigation of the CIA, and files no charges. April accepts another job offer and leaves Jones' team.

In April 2004, the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal hits the news, which is particularly embarrassing, as President Bush had recently denounced the use of torture in an address to the United Nations.[11] Jack Goldsmith, the OLC's new head, repudiates and withdraws the Torture Memos. Tenet, Rodriguez, Rizzo, Thomas Eastman, Bernadette, Mitchell, and Jessen meet to discuss how to respond. Mitchell gives an impassioned speech in defense of his methods, and Rodriguez has the program re-certified.

Jones and Julian finish the 6,200-page report, and it is approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Feinstein, on December 13, 2012, and sent to the CIA for final comments. Two months later, John Brennan is sworn in as the new Director of the CIA. Brennan tells Jones and Senator Feinstein that he disagrees with many parts of the report and will not allow it to be published without modification, so Jones has a series of meetings with CIA representatives, who raise several objections to key findings in the report, such as that no unique intel was obtained by using EITs, or the fact that Mitchell and Jessen were unqualified to be offering advice on interrogation techniques, but were nevertheless paid $81 million of taxpayer money for their efforts. Senator Feinstein listens to Jones' defense of his report after these meetings and eventually tells him to stop going to them.

Frustrated, Jones reveals some of the contents of the Panetta Review to Senator Mark Udall of the Intelligence Committee. Senator Udall confronts Caroline Krass during a December 17, 2013, Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Krass' nomination to the position of CIA General Counsel, stating that he "is "more confident than ever of the accuracy of the committee's 6,300 page study." He then reveals the existence of the Panetta Review by saying that the Intelligence Committee's report is consistent with the CIA's own study of the EIT program initiated by former-Director Leon Panetta, while both reports conflict with the CIA's official response to the Senate report.[12] Meanwhile, Jones, who is fearful that the CIA will attempt to destroy all copies of the Panetta Review, like they destroyed the interrogation videotapes, secretly moves a copy of a portion of the review into a safe in his office in the Senate Hart Building.

The CIA, humiliated by Udall's revelation, conducts a search of Jones' workspace, violating of the agreement between the Senate and the CIA. They threaten to prosecute Jones for "stealing" the Panetta Review from the CIA's computers, and Jones' lawyer, Cyrus Clifford, advises him that he does not have a legal problem, but a "sunlight"—that is, transparency—problem.[13] Jones meets with the New York Times national security reporter and suggests he look into the hacking of Senate computers by the CIA, careful to provide no specific details. When the Times article is published, Jones is called into a meeting with Morris and Senator Feinstein, who is visibly angry with him, but ultimately makes a speech supporting him and formally accusing the CIA of unlawfully searching the Senate's computers in violation of the separation of powers. Brennan and the CIA are forced to back down, and the charges against Jones are dropped.

Senator Feinstein tells Jones that she is prepared to release a shorter summary of the report, but President Barack Obama grants the CIA broad authority to redact it first. Jones points out that the CIA's proposed heavy redactions make many of the revelations detailed in the summary impossible to follow, but the Agency claims that even the pseudonyms used could endanger the lives of its agents. In the face of unrelenting efforts to block the release of the summary, Jones again meets with the New York Times reporter, but ultimately decides not to leak the report to the media.[14]

The Republican Party wins control of the Senate in the November 2014 midterm elections, meaning the report will likely be buried forever when the new Congress is sworn in January 2015. Faced with this deadline, the Senate finally agrees to release the summary of the report. Senator Feinstein gives a speech summarizing the report and its implications, and then Senator John McCain, who was tortured by his captors as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, gives an impassioned speech in support of the report.

An epilogue, delivered through a series of intertitles, explains that Jones left his job as a Senate staffer after the summary of the report was released. It is also noted that no CIA officers were ever criminally charged in connection with the actions outlined in the report, that many were in fact promoted, and that one (an allusion to Gina Haspel) later became director of the Agency.



The film was announced in April 2018, with Scott Z. Burns directing and writing, and Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, and Jennifer Morrison signed on to star.[15][16]

When asked by PBS NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown about his motivation for making a film inspired by the controversial 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, Burns replied that both of his parents are psychologists, and he found it "appalling" to learn from the report[17] that "people had figured out a way to weaponize psychology", a profession that "exists to help people".[18] Burns further said that he and producer Steven Soderbergh felt it reflected well on the United States that the government allowed the summary of the report to be published. In the same interview, Soderbergh said he did not know "that there's another country, other than maybe Canada or the U.K.", that "would have even allowed this kind of investigation."[18]

Some of the characters that appear in the film are composite characters, such as Bernadette, who bears some resemblance to Gina Haspel. Haspel oversaw the CIA black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was tortured, and later managed to push her bosses to destroy the tapes of the torture. According to the CIA, Haspel was not, however, in charge of the site during Zubaydah's interrogation.[19]

Production began on April 16, 2018, in New York.[20] Tim Blake Nelson, Ben McKenzie, Matthew Rhys, Ted Levine, and Michael C. Hall were added to the cast the following month,[21] and Maura Tierney joined the cast in June.[22] The film's 50-day shooting schedule and $18 million budget were cut to 26 days and $8 million.[1]


The Report had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2019,[23] and Amazon Studios acquired its distribution rights shortly thereafter.[24] In October, it appeared as a spotlight film at the Hamptons International Film Festival.[25] In the United States, the film was scheduled for a theatrical release on September 27, 2019, two weeks before its streaming release on Amazon Prime Video on October 11,[26] but those dates were changed to November 15 and November 29, respectively.[27]


Box office[edit]

Unlike with its previous titles, Amazon did not publicly disclose The Report's theatrical grosses, but IndieWire estimated that it grossed around $150,000 from 84 theaters over its opening weekend. The site wrote that "the response, so far as we can determine, are [sic] under the usual Amazon performance."[28] Playing in just 60 theaters the following weekend, the film made an estimated $75,000.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of 244 critics' reviews of the film are positive, with an average rating of 7.2/10; the site's "critics consensus" reads: "The Report draws on a dark chapter in American history to offer a sober, gripping account of one public servant's crusade for accountability."[29] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100 based on reviews by 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[30] Certain critics compared the film to political thrillers from the 1970s, in contrast to more recent works. For instance, Owen Gleiberman of Variety said he found The Report "at once gripping and eye-opening" in a way that made him think of All the President's Men (1976).[31]

Human Rights First awarded the 2019 Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment to The Report.[32] In 2020, the film won the Cinema for Peace Award for Political Film of the Year.


Year Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
2019 São Paulo International Film Festival Best First Feature Scott Z. Burns Nominated
Philadelphia Film Festival Best First Feature Nominated
Political Film Society Democracy The Report Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Portrayal of Washington, DC Won
2020 77th Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress Annette Bening Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Nominated
Phoenix Critics Circle Nominated
St. Louis Film Critics Association Nominated
North Texas Film Critics Association Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Actor of the Year Adam Driver Won
Cinema for Peace Awards Political Film of the Year The Report Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Panetta Review was a secret review of the use of torture by the CIA under the administration of George W. Bush, which was conducted by then CIA director Leon Panetta, who served under President Obama as CIA director from February 19, 2009, until June 30, 2011. According to a March 7, 2014, New York Times article, the review yielded a series of memoranda that "cast a particularly harsh light" on the Bush-era interrogation program."


  1. ^ a b Miller, Julie (September 9, 2019). "Adam Driver's Whistle-blower Movie Has a Message for Trump's Washington". Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Brueggemann, Tom (November 24, 2019). "'Dark Waters' Leads Tepid Arthouse Openers at Crowded Box Office". IndieWire. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  3. ^ "The Report (2019)". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  4. ^ Sims, David (January 29, 2019). "How 'The Report' Turned a 6,700-Page Torture Investigation Into a Political Thriller". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  5. ^ Felperin, Leslie (January 27, 2019). "'The Report': Film Review Sundance 2019". The Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ Isikoff, Michael (April 24, 2009). "We Could Have Done This the Right Way". Newsweek. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  7. ^ Johnston, David (September 10, 2006). "At a Secret Interrogation, Dispute Flared Over Tactics". New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  8. ^ "A Review of the FBI's Involvement and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq" (PDF). Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. May 2008. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  9. ^ Eggen, Dan; Pincus, Walter (December 18, 2007). "FBI, CIA Debate Significance of Terror Suspect: Agencies Also Disagree On Interrogation Methods". Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  10. ^ Soufan, Ali (April 22, 2009). "My Tortured Decision". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  11. ^ "Bush's Address to U.N. General Assembly". The New York Times. April 21, 2004. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  12. ^ "Confirmation hearing", The Report, Behind the Scenes of the Report, Amazon Studios and VICE Studios, 2019
  13. ^ "A Sunlight Problem", The Report, Behind the Scenes of the Report, Amazon Studios and VICE Studios, 2019
  14. ^ "Crossing a Line", The Report, Behind the Scenes of the Report, Amazon Studios and VICE Studios, 2019
  15. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (April 4, 2018). "Annette Bening, Adam Driver, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison In Talks To Join Scott Z. Burns' CIA Drama From VICE Studios". Deadline Hollywood.
  16. ^ McNary, Dave (April 4, 2018). "Annette Bening, Adam Driver, Jon Hamm in Talks for CIA Drama 'Torture Report'". Variety. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  17. ^ "Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, Foreword by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein, Findings and Conclusions, Executive Summary" (PDF). United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2019. Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  18. ^ a b "The Report", PBS Newshour, November 29, 2019, retrieved November 29, 2019
  19. ^ Bonner, Raymond (March 15, 2018). "Correction: Trump's Pick to Head CIA Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah". ProPublica. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  20. ^ Perez, Rodrigo (April 12, 2018). "Steven Soderbergh Shooting 'Panama Papers' Movie Next, Title Revealed". The Playlist. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  21. ^ "The Torture Report': Tim Blake Nelson, Ben McKenzie, Matthew Rhys & More Round Cast Of CIA Drama – Cannes". Deadline Hollywood.
  22. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (June 18, 2018). "Maura Tierney Joins CIA Drama 'The Torture Report'". Deadline Hollywood.
  23. ^ Debruge, Peter (November 28, 2018). "Sundance Film Festival Unveils 2019 Features Lineup". Variety. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  24. ^ Lang, Brent; Donnelly, Matt (January 28, 2019). "Sundance: Amazon Nabs Adam Driver Political Thriller 'The Report' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  25. ^ "'The Report' named Spotlight film at Hamptons fest". Newsday. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  26. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 13, 2019). "Amazon Studios' Sundance Pick-Up 'The Report' Getting Theatrical-Streaming Awards Season Release". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  27. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 26, 2019). "Amazon Positions Theatrical/Streaming Release 'The Report' Deeper In Awards Season". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  28. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (November 17, 2019). "'Waves' Makes Box Office Splash as Amazon and Netflix Stay Quiet". IndieWire. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  29. ^ "The Report (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved March 12, 2024.
  30. ^ "The Report Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  31. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (January 26, 2019). "Film Review: 'The Report'". Variety. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  32. ^ "Human Rights First Honors The Report with Lumet Award". Human Rights First. August 29, 2019. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

External links[edit]