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Adam Driver as Dan Jones
Adam Driver as Dan Jones, Senate investigator (Credit: Sundance Institute)

This movie premiered recently at the Sundance film festival, which means it might be headed to a theater near you. That depends on whether a studio thinks that a movie that is critical of both the CIA and President Obama has commercial prospects.

I hope so. The story of how the CIA–with the help of the Obama White House–effectively kept the whole disgraceful story of the Bush-Cheney torture regime out of the public record is an important one.

After President Obama came to office in 2009 and renounced torture, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an inquiry that wound up taking six years. How had the United States, long proud of tradition of not torturing, had adopted “extreme interrogation techniques”? And what were the results?

The investigators demanded to see the agency’s own internal assessment of torture. The agency, led by John Brennan, stonewalled. But the agency made a mistake. One internal CIA study was accidentally left in the investigators’ computer drive. It directly contradicted the agency’s official position that torture had enabled the United States to preempt terror attacks. The report showed that even inside the agency some concluded torture didn’t work.

The agency claimed the Committee had stolen the report and demanded the Justice Department open an espionage investigation of the Senate investigators. President Obama, determined to leave no daylight between himself and the national security agencies, backed the CIA to the hilt.

When the Committee’s damning 5,000 page report was finally finished, Obama agreed with the agency’s request that it remain classified. Only a 700-page declassified summary was made public, and its findings were immediately disputed by former director Michael Hayden and others.

The net effect? The CIA was allowed to define torture as a policy option that the agency chooses not to exercise at this time for political, not operational, reasons. Obama had renounced the practice of torture but he also preserved it as a future possibility.

It is one of the sorrier tales of the Obama era. It certainly doesn’t have a happy Hollywood ending.

‘Excellent Counterprogramming’

Two early reviews of “The Report” are positive. The Hollywood Reporter says:

Starring a buttoned-down, tightly focused Adam Driver as Dan Jones, the researcher who compiled the report, and Annette Bening as his boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein, this bracingly dry, talky but ultimately fascinating work offers excellent counterprogramming for anyone who felt Vice was too juvenile

The Guardian calls it a “gripping fiery drama.’

Fresh off his first Oscar nomination for BlackKklansman, Driver is a total natural with often difficult, demanding and intimidatingly wordy material. Like the script, he’s similarly unflashy and unquestionably convincing as a man doggedly following through with his convictions with so many of his info-stuffed monologues deserving quiet applause. …. As Feinstein, Bening is superb, nailing both her physicality and line delivery while avoiding any sort of broad caricature. 

But will political realism sell at the box office? Hollywood loves a film that is positive about the CIA and Obama. What’s why “Zero Dark Thirty” did so well. “The Report” doesn’t flatter the agency or the former president. Which is why it needs to be told.

(Here’s the report that the The Report is based on. )

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