December 6, 2019 – This drama about an investigation into the torture of prisoners held by the the U.S. government is kind of like a dramatization of an MSNBC news story on the subject. The story is competently handled and very informative, but it seems inherently un-cinematic, static and very densely packed with information conveyed largely through dialog.
Adam Driver stars as Daniel Jones, the dedicated man obsessed with combing through millions of documents, compiling a complete report on torture with the unwieldy title of “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program.” A better title would be “Report on CIA Torture of Prisoners.”
The film follows Jones' early career in Washington before he headed up the study. The study is ordered after it is revealed in 2005 that 100 video recordings of prisoner interrogations were destroyed by the National Clandestine Service. That seemed suspicious to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, headed up by Senator Diane Feinstein (played by Annette Benning of “Being Julia”) so an investigation is launched.
The investigation gets no help from the CIA, which won't submit CIA supervisors or operatives for questioning. That means Jones and his small team of investigators must go through huge quantities of emails, letters, memoranda, reports and other documents to find out what was going on with those interrogations. It is difficult, tedious work, carried out in an underground room with no windows. The CIA fights the investigation every step of the way to protect the agency's reputation.
As Jones doggedly pursues the truth, however, it becomes clear that the CIA is torturing prisoners using experimental psychological and physical techniques. It also becomes clear that this torture is not effective at all, and that the methods employed are neither humane, nor based on sound science. The CIA claims their “enhanced interrogation” methods are effective and is producing information that saves lives.
This film makes its point, in part, by showing fairly graphic scenes of torture, including one prisoner who is treated in such an inhumane manner that he dies of hypothermia alone in his cell, chained to the floor. When the CIA feels threatened by Jones, they go after him, charging him with espionage, by hacking into CIA computers. Jones says his computer skills are limited to a mastery of Microsoft Word, so how could he hack the most secure computer system in the world?
With the aid of a New York Times reporter (played by Matthew Rhys of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) Jones fights back against his attackers and turns the tables on them, when it turns out the CIA illegally entered a secure Senate facility to dig up dirt on Jones.
It would be hard to miss the parallels between the torture investigation and the current impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump. In both cases, the administration is stonewalling the investigation and trying to dig up dirt on its accusers. The CIA attacks Jones and Trump goes after the whistleblower who started the investigation into Trump's dealings in Ukraine, as well as anyone else who criticizes him.
The last part of the movie involves the long fight by Jones and Feinstein to publish the report, opposed every step of the way by the CIA, intent on keeping the report secret. Indeed, most of this report is still secret. The final battle over the release of an executive summary of the report, takes place in the last days before Feinstein and her fellow Democrats lose control of the Senate committee to the Republicans, who want to bury the report.
This is a very informative movie, and the parallels between that investigation and the current impeachment investigations are revealing. However, this movie is somewhat static and didactic, although it does project moral power. Because of the nature of the interiors, and few exterior shots, it is not very interesting, visually. This film rates a B.
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