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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Scott Z Burns
prd Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z Burns, Kerry Orent, Michael Sugar
with Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, Michael C Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Douglas Hodge, Ted Levine, Dominic Fumusa, Scott Shepherd, Jennifer Morrison
release US/UK 15.Nov.19
19/US Amazon 1h59
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
There's an unnerving urgency to this political thriller that not only makes it riveting to watch but adds a potent kick. Tracing the six-year Senate investigation into the CIA's use of torture following 9/11, writer-director Scott Z Burns builds maximum suspense out of people in suits shuffling papers in windowless rooms. Most importantly, the script's journalistic integrity cuts through liberal or conservative ideology: it's about the importance of the truth.
In 2007, Dan Jones (Driver) was appointed by Senate intelligence chair Diane Feinstein (Bening) to compile a report about "enhanced interrogation techniques". With a small team, he begins researching the 119 named detainees. Although the CIA destroyed all video evidence, there are millions of messages detailing the brutal methods devised by contractor (Mitchell). But once the report is finished, no one wants it released. And the CIA sets out to attack Dan personally before being called up short by the Senate, whose job is to oversee them and keep them accountable.
This long film is packed with seriously loaded conversations, but every scene is a gripping piece in the puzzle. Burns recounts the story by re-enacting emails and cables, which means that the audience sometimes has to witness the nightmarish treatment of prisoners. There was also a 1978 CIA study proving that torture doesn't work, and yet they paid millions to these contractors who, with complicit agents, violated international law in their efforts to "make America safe". But actually they were just excusing their own sadism.
Driver gives the film a loudly beating heart as the tenacious Jones, quietly standing up for what's right even in some staggering situations. His scenes with Bening are beautifully written and played, leading to Feinstein's devastatingly powerful speech about the importance of historical honesty on the Senate floor (John McCain gives his own eloquent reply in archive footage). Side characters have plenty of edge, from Hamm as a pivotal politician to Stoll, who offers Jones some unexpected legal advice.
Many actors beautifully play people who suppress their morality for what they think is the greater good. And this is of course the point: How can someone claim moral high ground when they have abandoned the very principles they claim to be fighting for? Even more potent is how the film explores the post-truth era, a time when obscuring or even denying the facts is seen as a valid way to move forward. History will always out the truth.
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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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