The Report Parent Guide
Streaming on Amazon: Hard to watch, this film is also a critical part of the debate on the extent the US should go to ensure its national security.
Parent Movie Review
Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) is enjoying a pleasantly unremarkable university experience until 9/11 alters the trajectory of his life. The next day, he changes his classes to anything related to national security. Little does he know that the aftermath of that terrible day will affect his life more profoundly than a simple change of academic direction.
Six years later, Senate staffer Jones is directed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead a bipartisan investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 unlawful detention and torture of terror suspects. Jones and his team will spend six years on the project, read over six million pages of CIA documents, write a 6,000+ page report and a 500 page summary, and spar with the CIA, the White House, and a number of senators, to get the summary made public.
The Report is a difficult film to watch, in more ways than one. Viewers who are not familiar with the large number of real-life players in this political drama might have trouble keeping all the faces and names straight. And they might struggle to remember the importance of some of the historical events. But those difficulties pale in the face of the movie’s true horrors: watching the torture perpetrated by American agents. Director Scott Z Burns tries to contextualize the events by showing the fear and desperation of the CIA agents who are afraid that failure on their part could lead to another attack on domestic soil. He does not shy away from showing where that fear leads them. Horrific scenes of naked or partially clothed men being chained to walls and ceilings, being beaten or receiving “rectal rehydration”, and being waterboarded can turn the stomach of any viewer. Watching as the Bush administration initiates the abuse and the Obama administration tries to cover it up is an exercise in bipartisan despair.
Although the story is hard to watch, the actors are not. Adam Driver gives a passionate performance as Daniel Jones, paling with outrage over each new revelation of human rights abuses and almost shaking when he learns that the report might never be made public. His internal struggle as he tries to decide whether to leak the report to a journalist draws viewers in. Standout performances also come from Douglas Hodge and T Ryder Smith as James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, architects of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA adopts to break down the psyches of the detainees being held in black sites. Hodge and Smith bring a dark cutting wit to their roles as psychologists turned national security snake oil salesmen. Blithely admitting their lack of experience in interrogation, both men manage to convince the CIA leadership that they can flip the Agency’s employee training SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program and create a mirror image (debility, dependency, dread) that will destroy detainees’ abilities to withhold information. The CIA eventually turns over $80 million for a violent, brutal, program that even their own top secret review later proves was completely worthless in terms of obtaining useful intelligence.
The Report is not a film for everyone. It’s R-rating is well deserved for both the profanity (including ten sexual expletives) and the gruesome torture scenes. That being said, adults and teens with an interest in politics, recent history, national security, and ethics will consider this movie two hours well spent.Directed by Scott Z Burns. Starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine. Running time: 119 minutes. Theatrical release November 15, 2019. Updated October 5, 2023
Watch the trailer for The Report
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Report rated R? The Report is rated R by the MPAA for some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture, and language
Violence: There are repeated scenes of torture including men being chained to walls and ceilings, detainees being waterboarded by men wearing hoods, and men being hit and thrown into walls. After one waterboarding episode, a detainee is shown bruised and battered, spitting water. In one scene, a man is tied down to a table and given “rectal rehydration”; no detail. A detainee is told his children will be harmed if he doesn’t cooperate. A man is shaved against his will. Detainees are chained up in brightly lit rooms and loud music is played to keep them from sleeping. Psychologists are shown making coffins they plan to use for stress positions and mock burials. Two men mention canine experiments that involved electrical shocks. A detainee complains of being cold; water is thrown over him and he dies overnight. There is a discussion of the legality of crushing testicles, gouging out eyes, or spraying acid on people. There is mention of a detainee being chained up and wearing a diaper. A man talks about a detainee threatening to kill guards. There is mention of agents putting a drill against one man’s head and pulling another man’s arm out of the socket. Real life photos of tortured detainees from Abu Ghraib are briefly seen.
Sexual Content: Nude men are seen being tortured; buttocks are visible but genitals are not. A photograph is briefly seen that shows a pile of naked male prisoners; no genitals are clearly visible.
Profanity: There are just over 20 profanities, including 10 sexual expletives as well as scatological curses, terms of deity, and assorted mild profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Background characters are shown drinking in a bar.
Page last updated October 5, 2023
The Report Parents' Guide
How historically accurate is the movie?
Slate.com: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in The Report
The New York Times: “The Report” and the Untold Story of a Senate-CIA Conflict
If you were Daniel Jones, would you or would you not leak the report summary to the New York Times journalist? Do you think Americans are well served by having the summary made public? Do you think Americans should be able to see the entire report?
Do you believe that torture is ever justified? Does it provide useful intelligence? Is that worth the moral harm it does to those who perpetrate it and to the reputation of the United States?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
You can read the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture online here:
The CIA’s use of torture did not begin with 9/11. Alfred McCoy details its long history in A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror.
For an accessible look at a complex topic, you might want to try Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s graphic novel, The Torture Report.
Mark Fallon provides a history of the post-9/11 use of torture in his book Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture.
The CIA’s practice of “extraordinary rendition” – of unlawfully moving suspects from one country to another – made it possible for the Agency to evade laws about torture and prisoner abuse. For an analysis of this practice, check out Trevor Pagle’s Torture Taxi.
Despite both the CIA’s own investigation and that of the Senate Intelligence Committee, there are those who are convinced that torture remains effective. In Hard Measures, Jose A Rodriguez, who was the CEO of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and oversaw the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, insists that the Agency’s aggressive techniques kept America safe.
One of America’s most outspoken opponents of torture was the late Senator John McCain. In his memoir (written with Mark Salter), Faith of My Fathers, McCain describes his heritage of military service and his experience being tortured by the North Vietnamese during the war. In The Restless Wave, the Senator’s final book, he shares his ongoing concerns about the damage done to the United States by the practice of torture.
Related home video titles:
When a translator for British Intelligence discovers her government is lying about its reasons for going to war in Iraq, she has to decide if she’s going to remain silent or make her knowledge public. Keira Knightley stars as this moral dilemma unfolds in Official Secrets
After a former diplomat writes an article debating the Bush administration’s theories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, his wife’s identity as a CIA agent is leaked to the press. Fair Game tells the story of agent Valerie Plame Wilson and her battle to discover how her role became public knowledge.
The CIA’s illegal detention and torture activities were initiated during the Bush administration. For more information about the White House at that time, you can watch Oliver Stone’s biopic of George W. Bush: W. Vice President Dick Cheney is depicted in Vice.
In the fictional Bourne trilogy, Matt Damon stars as Jason Bourne, a CIA agent who has been psychologically modified into the perfect killing machine…until he loses his memory. Follow his battles with the Agency in The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum
Government wrongdoing is often exposed by the media. In The Post, Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, owner of The Washington Post, who has to decide if she is going to risk legal jeopardy by publishing The Pentagon Papers, with their exposé of decades of lies about the Vietnam War. The Washington Post is also critical in exposing the Watergate scandal. In Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, a senior FBI official leaks information about Watergate to two journalists.