- Sophie Willard
- 4 October 2019
LFF 2019: Adam Driver stars in this somewhat dry indictment of the CIA's post 9/11 practices
In this damning if flat indictment of CIA practices, Adam Driver plays Daniel Jones, a former US Senate investigator and the lead author of a report on the agency's torture programme deployed in the wake of 9/11, which was commissioned by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening). Jones faced stonewalling, obfuscation, and the threat of legal action as the CIA attempted to prevent the report's publication – despite its findings corroborating their own, from an earlier, covert investigation.
Those findings? That torture – repackaged with PR spin as 'enhanced interrogation techniques' – produced no actionable intelligence. Writer-director Scott Z Burns' film hammers this conclusion home decisively. Although focusing primarily on the practices of the Bush administration, notably, and refreshingly, his script doesn't let President Obama off lightly either, exposing the Democrat party's complicity in sweeping the story under the rug.
Grainy, orange-filtered flashbacks to the events detailed in the documents recreate the dehumanising treatment of detainees. They're the film's weakest element. Dialogue between CIA agents and the incompetent US Air Force psychologists who devised the programme is almost laughably expository, their conversations too on-the-nose in their cartoonish villainy. Though the flashbacks don't glorify the violence, they serve little purpose but to humiliate the Middle Eastern actors employed to stand naked and chained and pretend to be repeatedly water-boarded – an insulting creative decision.
Rather dry in its first half, the film injects much-needed humour into later scenes, with Driver in particular making use of his fine comic timing. Bening, sadly, has little to work with, and the attention to story over character results in a fact-focused retelling that's intellectually interesting and thrilling in its condemnation, yet devoid of tension, drama, and emotion.
Screening on Sat 5 and Sun 6 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. Selected release from Fri 15 Nov.