Writer/director Scott Z. Burns’ “The Report” is a highly informative look at U.S. Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones and his eye-opening 6,700 page report about the CIA’s use of torture after the 9/11 attacks. In the film, Adam Driver plays Jones, and Annette Bening and Jon Hamm star as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, respectively.
Burns, Driver, Bening, Hamm, Jones, and producer Jennifer Fox attended a “The Report” press conference at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival at The Omni King Edward Hotel, and the Phoenix Film Festival was there.
We will post more of the press conference in November, closer to the film’s November 15 release date, but here’s a sneak peek with the Phoenix Film Festival’s question to Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm.
PFF: Dan was asked, in the movie, if he had any nightmares (while working on the report), and I was wondering – and this goes to Adam, Annette and Jon – did you have any sleepless nights preparing for the film and was there anything in the script that surprised you?
JH: There was a lot that surprised me. I did not read the 500-page summary, nor did I read - because I wasn’t allowed - the 6,700-page actual report. There’s a lot that Dan knows that he’s not legally allowed to tell us, but the stuff that I did learn is horrifying. The fact that it occurred with the blessing of our government is a real bummer.
Scott took this 6,700-page behemoth, that was knocked down to 500 pages, (turned it) into a 2-hour movie and told that story. As Adam was saying, (Dan) became the top guy (who) got that information out and reminds everybody that this is not okay. I wouldn’t say that I had nightmares, but I definitely was reminded that that’s wrong.
AB: One of the important things, I think, to emphasize is that there were many people in the CIA who refused to cooperate with this (torture) program. They either asked to be transferred out, or they just refused. So, these people, of course, are nameless, because there’s so much about the entire operation that’s still secret. So, I think that’s a really important thing to remember. I hope that (the) message gets through to the public about the film: that this is not, in any way, an attack on the CIA. It’s an attack on what happened to a group of people, who were under enormous pressure from 9/11 to do something.
One of the things that I was surprised by was how eloquent Dianne Feinstein was, as was (Sen.) McCain by the way. They both gave incredible speeches, when (the report) was finally put out, and she basically says, “The strength of our system is measured by how we respond, when we make mistakes.” So, here we are. We are acknowledging something that happened. We are saying to the world that we did a wrong thing, and we are now rectifying it, as they did. We passed an amendment - as you all know probably, because it’s in the movie - where they said that we are reaffirming that no American can participate in this kind of behavior. We are going to abide by the Army Field Manual, and from now on, (for) anyone taken prisoner, the International Red Cross has to be invited. So, just reaffirming what was on the books before.
So, there’s a lot of shocking things for me in the story. The memo that was drafted within the Administration, justifying torture. Two contractors, who are not technically federal employees, making 80 million dollars between the two of them, to torture people. The cases are still going on.
It’s an ongoing story, but (the movie) was a pleasure to do. It was a pleasure to be part of it, and I felt really grateful.
AD: It’s hard to rank what is more or less surprising. I mean, if you just read the findings in the conclusion’s section of the actual report, which you can get on Amazon. I don’t mean it as a plug to Amazon, but in a way, (I’m) just saying that it’s simple to get, which again, is a backway of plugging Amazon.
I think one of the biggest things that was shocking to me, even just taking emotion out of it, (is) that (the program considered) torture (as) an effective way of getting information. It’s so well-documented throughout time that (torture) is not useful. It’s like someone coming along and thinking that we should change cars to square wheels instead, and everyone kind of going along with it, even though we (have) a lot of facts that the opposite is true.
But, as far as losing sleep, no, I didn’t literally lose sleep. Although, we shot in 26 days, and that was stressful. So, in that instance, I lost sleep. We made (the movie) in a fervor, which I wouldn’t have wanted to change any other way.
AB: I want to just add one more thing, if I may. It’s helpful to be reminded that a group of people wrote the report – Dan being the primary writer – and eventually got it out. Individuals do matter, and the force of character of one person who decides – as Dan did – to not be buried by five zillion pages of documents that the CIA dumped.
That was part of the (CIA’s) strategy. They figure, something will happen. Somebody’s going to get bored. Many people did quit and had to for very good reasons, (but) Dan’s force of character – and others - did make a difference. That is an encouraging thing to see, because right now, in so many places, we feel like we need that. We feel like we need individuals who are willing to step up and say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t acceptable.”
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.