The missing middle word in the title of this strenuous and thoughtful film is ''torture''. The inconvenient truth of it redacted, just like the videotape records of CIA ''enhanced interrogation techniques'' destroyed in the years after September 11.
No, not a spoiler. Just letting you know about the really unsavoury backstory to this 7000-page report into CIA activities. Based on real people and real events, The Report is about how researchers working for the Senate Intelligence Committee compiled an official report inhouse into the methods used by the government's intelligence agency while interrogating terrorists and terror suspects detained after 9/11.
A lot of young Americans stepped up to join the defence forces or otherwise help after that national catastrophe, including a young graduate student, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), who switched his studies to security overnight.
As a young everyman who wanted to help protect the homeland, Driver is an inspired choice. We already had him pegged as an engaging, versatile and intelligent actor, and though we get to see little other dimension to his personality outside of work, he is always interesting to watch. Late in the piece we see him jogging through a Washington park, and that's about it, but Driver is a nuanced and expressive actor as the bureaucrat whose job became his all.
Incidentally, the real Dan Jones has left the public service and set up an organisation to promote transparency and good governance around the world.
As a Senate staffer, Jones led the team investigating the CIA use of torture in the wake of 9/11. It may well have been the last thing a patriotically inclined young citizen sought, but he was lucky to be under the guidance of Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), an admirable, thoughtful and supportive boss. After a long a distinguished career, the real Feinstein is the oldest serving member of the US Senate.
The tapes of interrogations had disappeared or been destroyed, but, incredibly, the written records still existed, and it was these that Jones and his tiny team trawled through for years to come up with the facts. It was no easy job. They had to face bureaucrats disinclined to help, or simply resistant, and work in the windowless bowels of some departmental basement.
What they found on the page is translated to scenes that are mercifully short. Feinstein and the team found themselves asking if torture ever worked. Did it ever work in Vietnam or South America? The film leaves you in no doubt.
The Report is written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, whose writing credits include The Bourne Ultimatum, Side Effects and will soon include the new Bond film, No Time To Die.
Despite the welcome presence of Bening, there is nothing glamourous to this shadowy world of intelligence gathering. With its chilly palette and serious, weighty tone, The Report is in the tradition of work in the wake of the Watergate scandal, like All the President's Men, and after the release of the Pentagon Papers (on US involvement in Vietnam), The Post. Typically, it's mostly chilly interiors and the forbidding facades of impenetrable Washington government buildings loom in the frame.
When the report is released, other senators, including the late John McCain, (famously a former long-term prisoner of the North Vietnamese) lend their support to it and condemn the use of torture, and its stain on American values and international standing. The noticeably warmer glow in the frame at this point is unfortunately undercut by some final revelations.
This is smart stuff - and non-partisan - with a great message for governments to own their mistakes. It can feel like sitting on a jury, listening to the arguments back and forth, but in the final analysis, The Report is in no doubt about the position it takes.