This is a story that needs to be told, and I’m glad somebody told it. But this is not a great telling of this story.
This is the story of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA Torture, a report that damns the CIA not only for committing torture, but failing to actually get useful intelligence from the tortured. It is good that the Senate commission this report and released a summary, though I would say it’s not good that they classified the rest of it.
The film tells the story through its lead investigator. That choice makes sense but some of the other choices make less sense. Some of the film is told through double flashbacks, Jones flashing back to the compilation of the report and then flashing back to the events in the report. This can work but it’s a delicate balance and, in this case, it doesn’t work well, particularly in terms of pacing. The film already jumps around in time in the present but then it does in the flashbacks as well. It makes the whole pacing fairly awkward and seemingly arbitrary. The pacing picks up once the report is finished but it is still an oddly paced film.
But that’s not the main problem, the main problem is the script. There are a couple of problems with the script. The first is the dialogue itself, which is expository in the flashbacks and then heavily speechified in the later parts of the film. The dialogue is so bad at times, you might question the acting.
But the thing is, there are tons of famous actors in this. They lined up for it, apparently. And it does seem like the filmmakers figured they could make up for deficiencies in the script with the cast. (Seriously, look at this cast.)
The other problem with the script is how it traffics in cliches. There is one scene that so badly wants to be All the President’s Men it hurts. It was actually painful. And so many scenes in the film feel taken from some other film about moral crusaders trying to change the system from within or from films about the US government (whether political thrillers or dramas).
The last thing that is a problem is the hagiographic treatment of Dianne Feinstein in particular and the US government in general. Sure, she commissioned the report, good for her. But this woman voted for the war in Iraq and the film acknowledges she is pro-drone strikes. This is not a woman to be admired when it comes to US foreign policy. Worse, the film wants us to celebrate the fact that the US government created this report and released a summary – only a summary! – but nobody went to jail. At one point, Feinstein says people have to be held accountable in order to avoid repeating history. Spoiler alert, nobody has been held accountable.
In addition to a better film, this story deserves a different ending, one that is more critical of a country that would torture people to no purpose and then utterly fail to hold any of the torturers, or the people who hired and protected them, accountable.