LOS ANGELES—In 2007, when the screenwriter Scott Z. Burns read a Vanity Fair story detailing how two American military psychologists had helped devise the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the CIA used to torture captured terrorist suspects after the 9/11 attacks, he was fascinated. The son of two psychologists, he grew up in Minnesota seeing psychology “as a tool to understand and help people,” he told me, “and the idea that it could be weaponized and used to conduct interrogations was interesting to me.”
In fact, the whole idea seemed so bizarre that Burns first envisioned the story as one that could best be told as a black comedy. But the more he learned about the history of the torture program, the more convinced he became that it was too grotesque and complex a topic for that approach. By 2014, when a 525-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secret 6,700-page report on its years-long investigation of the program became public, Burns had a new vision.
The result is The Report, Burns’s feature directorial debut. The film stars Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the doggedly obsessive Senate staffer who wrote the report, and Annette Bening as the committee’s unyielding chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who made sure it became public. Having debuted to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival last winter, it appears in limited theatrical release on November 15 and on Amazon Prime thereafter. Burns said he came to imagine the film in the mold of Alan Pakula’s spare 1970s thrillers (The Parallax View, All the President’s Men). It may well be the only Hollywood movie—it’s certainly the most gripping one—ever made about an official government report.