Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – I Lost My Body

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jeremy Clapin

Starring: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois

Year: 2019

Apparently I’m not feeling the French films this year, as a few have come & gone without grabbing my attention or eliciting much praise.  Other critics disagree, they’re falling love, but I feel like we’re only getting the same melodrama we’ve seen before, whether it’s live action or animated, and I almost feel like the movies I’ve seen have been cliches of what you would expect from French art house, not elevated beyond what’s already come across the pond.  Regardless, just judging it on its own merits, I found I Lost My Body to be interesting but not captivating, curious but not enough to get me to follow it down its personal, pretentious rabbit hole.

Naoufel is an orphan who has just lost his hand; talk about things not going very well.  When he was a child, he was full of hope and promise, declaring that he would be an astronaut AND a pianist, ready to take the world by storm.  But an accident changed his trajectory, and now he’s a young man with no family and no direction.  A chance at love leads him down a unique path though, and perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, until another accident bumps him off the right road again.  Strangely enough, is own hand sets out on a journey to find him and perhaps set him straight again, reminding him of the dreams that he once had and the idea that they might not be lost for good.

What a strange and interesting story, mixed up in pieces and doled out a bit at a time, weird and kinda wonderful at the same time.  There’s a love story, a back story, a lot of sensationalism, and then a hand on a mission to find his body; yeah it’s odd, but it kinda works.  The problem is, I don’t think the film dedicates itself enough in any one direction to do one thing good enough to become great.  The music is cool, but the animation isn’t impressive, and the story meanders, perhaps making too many points all at once.  I hate to say it, but Frozen II should have been nominated Best Animated Feature instead of I Lost My Body, and not because it was more easily accessible, but because it got more right far more often.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – American Factory

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

Year: 2019

Nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, American Factory is an exploration of the modern workplace, where individual rights clash with corporate goals, with the wage-earner smack dab in the middle.  This is one of the few documentaries I’ve seen this year, I guess I never see a ton, but I’m glad this one caught my attention, and I’m glad I gave it a watch.  It’s personal to me because it was filmed in my home state of Ohio, and features my elected officials, but it should also be a story that resonates with workers all over the country, and maybe all over the globe.  That’s a major storypoint in the film; how the US workforce is affected by overseas investors & corporations, and how we all interact to create a landscape that balances efficient production with personal well being.

In 2008 in Dayton, Ohio, GM closed a major auto facility and put thousands of workers out of a job.  The area depended on this factory, its blue collar workers had few other options, and so the impact was felt mightily and personally.  Fast forward to 2014, when a Chinese auto glass manufacturer, Fuyao, bought the empty space and set up its own well-oiled machine, creating good jobs for the area’s residents and pumping out product to car companies all over the world.  But the transition from GM to Fuyao wasn’t exactly smooth; the language barrier, differences in working conditions, a strict “Chairman” overseeing all operations.  And when whispers of a union began to circulate, many lost their jobs for simply sympathizing with those who wanted to join the UAW.  With a unique perspective on this increasingly common international partnership, American Factory quickly becomes a must-see.

What a fascinating documentary, presented so informatively and without much bias, rarely do we even hear the interviewer/narrator/director as they watch events unfold.  There is a tilt perhaps toward unionization and worker health, but that’s fine by me, I think that’s important, and I challenge anyone to watch this film and come out thinking otherwise.  There’s little blame here; even the Chairman gets a side of the story, building a business that he hopes will succeed, contemplating the value of factory after factory until, what’s left?  And the comparison between American and Chinese worker is so curious, painting so many differences and similarities, showing us all as one group trying to succeed in balancing being useful and being happy.  Finding a middle ground isn’t easy, and it’s a fight being waged currently all over the world, in every office and factory, but documentaries like this help us understand the problems better, and, hopefully, can help us solve them.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Invisible Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Karim Ainouz

Starring: Julia Stockler, Carol Duarte

Year: 2019

A foreign film that didn’t make the short list for the Academy Awards, Invisible Life is nevertheless a powerful non-English feature that tells a haunting tale, if in a fashion that won’t excite audiences to run to their nearest friend and tell them the wondrous news.  In many ways, this movie is an attempt, rather than a success, at saying something special, at delivering a tale that will break our hearts, while exhibiting a standard that will hold up when compared to the other fine films competing for worldwide attention.  Basically, Invisible Life is strong enough to withstand scrutiny when seen, but will rarely be noticed, partly on account of the shear volume of cinema audiences will never get around to and partly because of its own inherent weaknesses.

Guida and Euridice are inseparable sisters living in Rio in the ’50s, just approaching womanhood and the choices that will soon confront them.  Their parents are living in the last century, causing Guida to date and dance behind their backs, while Euridice, shy and extremely talented at the piano, makes her excuses.  When Guida thinks she has fallen in love with a sailor, she runs away from home to find adventure, slinking back pregnant and embarrassed and abandoned.  Her parents lie to her and tell her that Euridice has left the city to follow her own path, when in truth she has mourned the loss of her best friend and has succumb to the traditional pressures of her family, marrying and having children of her own.  Both are desperate to find the other, both are miserable in their own lives, and neither can stop picturing the imagined glamour that the other must be experiencing far away in a place where maybe dreams come true.

The story is enough to break your heart, two sisters told lies to keep them apart, one an outcast, one having completely given up on her talents and her hopes, both wishing the other a life of happiness while hating every day spent apart.  It’s so sad, but awfully honest, and never gimmicky; there is one scene where they almost run into each other, but it doesn’t feel like a bait & switch, it’s just awfully bleak.  The film is that way on occasion as well, to a fault, just depressing and weighted and dull, showing well that life isn’t always roses, but forcing audiences to decide between the self-preservation of closing off a little or the utter madness of giving completely in.  It’s also a bit longer than it needs to be, but the ending is great, the music is strong, the meaning is there, you’ll feel the feels, it’s just a lot of work and you’ll probably come away completely emotionally drained.  Is that a ringing endorsement? No, but there are many strong factors as well, the film has real heart, and its raw honestly is one of its greatest features, if you can watch it and live to tell the tale.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Underwater

Category : Movie Review

Director: William Eubank

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, TJ Miller

Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr, Mamoudou Athie

Year: 2019

The best film of 2020 is here!  OK, lame joke, but Underwater almost deserves the chance to hold the title, for a little while at least, because it almost works so much more than we really thought it would.  Coming out in January on the heels of Oscar contenders, expectations were understandably low, but I’m here to report that this movie is no Dolittle, and that it should be taken seriously, or at least as seriously as one can take a space alien movie that neither takes place in space nor has any aliens in it.  Still, somehow this project and this story work, almost inexplicably, and credit should go where credit is due, with none of us standing in the way because we didn’t fully guess that William Eubank & Kristen Stewart could make something this good.

Seven miles deep, at the world’s creepiest mining colony, we dig down into the ocean floor for resources, while the world wonders if we’re going further than is smart.  Turns out, we are, because a catastrophe hits the drill, the mine, the base, the station, everything, and when you’re miles below the surface running to safety isn’t very easy.  Norah is a mechanical engineer and now she’s a survivor, one of the few left underwater who didn’t either get to an escape pod or die.  She soon meets up with five others and they band together to fight against their almost certain deaths: the Captain, Smith, Emily, Rodrigo, and goofy Paul.  The plan; to ride the elevator down to the ground floor, and then walk across the bottom to the drilling site, which should still have a means of escape.  Easier said than done, because the gang soon realize that some slumbering evil is hunting them, and it isn’t happy that they woke it up.

So many things to talk about with this one, which is a welcome surprise; I thought I might enjoy the b-movie qualities of the film, but I never imagined I’d walk away as pleased as I was.  When I saw the trailer, I did wonder if it might be an all-or-nothing flick, like you either love or hate it, that it could either go all the way right or all the way wrong.  That’s not exactly how it turned out, there is some middle ground here, but I’d definitely lean toward Job Well Done; I had my fingers crossed that that would be the case, but I’m still pretty shocked.  Underwater is everything we enjoy about space alien movies or space station misadventure films, just in a different locale, but not really changing much.  It’s the same genre, the same feel, reaches the same milestones, but in a good way, in a way that feels comfortable and fun.  It’s semi-scary, starts with a bang, never slows for long, packs a ton into a short period of time, and can’t be called anything but pure entertainment.

It’s almost a cross between Cloverfield and Life; some shaky cam, a monstrous presence, friends traveling through danger and disaster, mixed with an evil life form, a restrictive environment, a small group setting, death around every corner.  In that manner, blending those styles, Eubank created a smart, quick, thrilling, sci-fi/action celebration that will feel familiar to fans, and should excite general audiences as well.  At times it was as fun as a video game, at times as funny as a spoof, with TJ Miller leading the comedy to what I thought was a good place and had a good balance.  Make your own choice on him, I understand some people won’t want to watch something that he’s in, I almost don’t want to laugh at his jokes, but I think his presence (as in Cloverfield) makes a big impact.  Kristen Stewart was great, minus the narration and the back story that I never cared about, Vincent Cassel was as brooding as he always is, the surprises were Henwick & Gallagher as a pair, and the entire small cast meshed well together over the course of the perilous journey, I never hated one of them and wanted them to die because they were annoying, which I think is progress. See Underwater because it’s a quality escape about a quality escape (see what I did there?), and let it be on your Best Of list for a month or so before it’s replaced by obviously better things.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Category : Movie Review

Director: Celine Sciamma

Starring: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel

Year: 2019

To some, Portrait of a Lady of Fire is pure genius, a work of art, untouchable, magnificent, above critique; to me it’s a snooze.  And it’s not that I disagree completely with those who loved it; I also think that it was lovely, a painting come to life, full of gorgeous shots, but that was barely enough to keep me awake.  Movies need more than beautiful static images, they need zest, music, motion, Emotion, heart, voice; they were once called talkies for a reason, people usually talk in them.  With Portrait, you could leave the room at any point, come back, not have missed a thing, and go on about the grueling business of waiting for something to happen.  I get the art angle, I admire the eye, I don’t care about subtitles, I’m ready to enjoy, but first I need something enjoyable, and that, apparently, just wasn’t available.

Marianne has been hired to paint a bride before her wedding, on a rocky island off the coast of France.  An easy enough job, but for one problem; the bride won’t pose for a painting.  She is being married to a man who was chosen for her sister, before her sister died.  Now, the reclusive Heloise must marry in her place, but she would rather die, a prospect that she is closely considering.  It is Marianne’s job to befriend Heloise, become her companion, commit her to memory, and then paint a beautiful portrayal.  But she never planned on the closeness she would have with this tortured and lonely woman, how alive she would feel by her side.  Something laborious becomes idyllic becomes heart-breaking, as the pair must part when the task is complete, to go separate ways that may never cross paths again.

I’ve already received flak just for calling this movie sleepy on Twitter; they haven’t even read how mean my review is going to be.  No, I kid, I liked this film, it had so many wonderful qualities, most of which couldn’t outshine its flaws and/or keep me awake.  For one, Portrait views as a painting given magical animation, with shot after shot that will just blow you completely away, assuming that you enjoy rich cinematography that attempts to tell a tale all on its own.  If what you want is art, here you go, but how long can you look at it without wanting to walk away, even when you know what you’re seeing is this grand?  For me, it was like being trapped in front of one masterpiece at a museum; I like to think of myself as cultured, but I’m gonna eventually want to go have a snack, go sit down, go look at my phone; hey, I’m a modern human with modern needs, sue me.  Again, joking, but come on, audiences deserve a little more than just beauty, we need a reason to feel something, a compelling emotion to help guide us through to the end of the story, and that’s what was missing.  Also music; there was no music except for some chanting in the middle and an orchestra at the very end.  The director has said that was a choice, and that’s fine, but that’s not a choice I would have made, neither is it something I enjoyed as an audience member.  Music can make or break a film, but apparently its lack can be as bad its bad quality.  No, this lovely, opulent, stylized, French Renaissance oil on canvas isn’t one of the best movies of the year, it’s simply pleasing to the eye, and I’d hope that discerning critics could tell the difference.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Honey Boy

Category : Movie Review

Director: Alma Har’el

Starring: Noah Jupe, Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges

Year: 2019

I’m sure my kids are getting tired of the story of Shia LaBeouf watching all his movies in chronological order in a theatre he rented out for the purpose, but I think that event was important somehow, not just to Shia but to me, if I could just figure out why.  He took over a cinema, opened it up to whoever wanted to come in, sat up front, ordered some pizza, and watched his life unfold on screen, remembering his own origin story through sets, casts, and dates, which can’t be the way you want to view your childhood.  But it turned into some sort of catharsis, and we were along for the ride, which meant something to me, and I’ve been endeared to the guy ever since (not to mention how amazing he was on Even Stevens and how I’ve loved him since I first saw him all the way up until now; again, almost inexplicably).  It’s like I want him as my best friend and I also want to leave him alone to find himself; Shia, dude, I’m rooting for you.  And independently, I thought Honey Boy was fanFLIPPINtastic.

Otis is an actor who has never come to grips with his troubled past, which has led to danger concerning his bright future.  He’s talented, there’s no question, he can pull from darkness way deep down, that’s great for the camera, but it’s not so wonderful for his personal life, and one more drunken incident leads to a stint in rehab, where the do-gooder therapists want him to hug himself and scream in the woods; Otis is calling bullshit.  But in the process, he begins to access his childhood, and the events that may have led to his current situation.  His father was a performer, a clown, a comedian, but also an addict, and tried to be his manager instead of his parent, taking his money, verbally abusing him, and failing to be the dad Otis needed.  Seen from two different times, the stories of a rising child star and a crashing young adult merge into one moving tale that is at times too honest to take, and always painfully personal.

Shia wrote this film and it’s his story, which you can feel in every scene.  How emotional must it have been to play your own father, especially this father, and to see these memories created for others to judge.  He wrote it when he was in rehab, which the older Otis character does as well, and this is his first attempt to create a screenplay for a feature film; well done.  This was a feature debut for Har’el too, but you never would have known it; Honey Boy comes across as a polished painting, a work of rare emphatic genius.  It’s raw, it’s real, it’s honest, it’s hard to watch, but it’s also funny, loving, something many of us can relate to, and never feels forced.  The editing is great, everything is trimmed perfectly, the music is stellar, smoothing every moment out, and the acting is just so awesome, from all three male leads.  This is a film that flew under my radar, but I wish that hadn’t happened so that I could have championed it to my critics group.  It’s a bit Florida Project meets Entertainment meets Mid90s, which is odd and maybe a little “borrow-y”, but it’s OK to borrow if you’re going to give back, and what Honey Boy gave to me I won’t soon forget.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Two Popes

Category : Movie Review

Director: Fernando Meireelles

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins

Year: 2019

This is the part Jonathan Pryce was born to play, twenty-three years after another role as an Argentinian; Juan Peron in Evita.  Pryce is 72, only a couple years younger than Pope Francis when he took the took over the papacy, and he looks just like him; match made in cinematic heaven, forgive the blasphemy.  Anthony Hopkins, as well, is a similar age to Pope Benedict when the action in this film takes place, so it all works, and, really, you couldn’t have asked for two better actors to take this movie onto their shoulders and hold it their for two full hours with little else going on other than the occasional flashback.  That doesn’t make Two Popes amazing though, regardless of its talent; this Oscar-hopeful didn’t make as large a splash as it was expected to, failing to wow perhaps but also succeeding in telling a solid tale.

Conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005, although it wasn’t the landslide many expected.  Some voted for a more Liberal candidate, Argentinian Jorge Bergoglio, who was seen as a chance for progress.  But Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, and Bergoglio returned to his home country to do the Lord’s work, which in his mind meant helping the poor and compromising the Church’s stance on some very sensitive issues; divorce and gay marriage, among others.  Years later, when scandal rocked the Vatican, the two men would meet again and develop what could only be called an instant friendship, although their viewpoints could not be more different.  Fate would make them Popes at the same time in 2013, as Pope Benedict resigned and Pope Francis rose to power, but their relationship, and one pivotal meeting in Rome, would change history.

Pryce is incredible and Hopkins is a living legend; let’s enjoy that as long as these two men are working and thriving.  This Netflix original is a great time to celebrate their careers, because their individual talents are on display here for all to see; Pryce the lovable, Hopkins the irascible.  It was a perfect casting, and a well-constructed film, if a little heavy on the flashback and the self doubt, a little light on the gravity of the situation.  But that was a choice, depicting these men as mere men, old men at that, and only getting older.  I liked what I saw, but I was stopped short of love for many reasons, one being how much I despite organized religion, especially the Catholic Church.  But another being that the film is simply slow and plodding, taking too long to deliver a message that we could have heard quickly.  A more robust style would have served this movie well, but, alas, we have what we have.  Two Popes won’t be the Oscar-contender it was hoping to be, but you might hear its title pop up, or Pryce’s name mentioned, and there’s no reason to scorn that; I think a measured nod was well-deserved.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Lighthouse

Category : Movie Review

Director: Robert Eggers

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Year: 2019

If you thought The Witch was weird, get ready for Eggers’ second project, because The Lighthouse is bananas.  It’s been long enough since Twilight that people should know by now that Robert Pattinson is an amazing actor who can do anything, and here he teams up with Willem Dafoe, the master of the bizarre and twisted.  Together they form a dynamic duo who A24 & Eggers took in hand, challenged to the max, and gambled on being great.  Well, it worked, because this film is like no other you will see this year or any other, a sea-salt drama with vivid fantasy, mixed with frightening reality, until you don’t know which end is up.  Add in a little mythology (Prometheus), a little classic literature (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), and you’ve got something really unique to feast upon, if such is your taste.  That might be a relatively small group, this movie is raving mad after all, but for that subset, something special awaits.

Two men, one old and one young, travel to a spit of rock off the coast of New England to man its lighthouse in shifts for four weeks; a hard task on a hard island.  The older, a veteran sailor and wickie, is in charge of the light itself, while the younger, a rough character and nomadic worker, tends to the mending and the hauling and the general labor.  As the weeks roll by, the isolation becomes more difficult to bare, as do the dreams, the vapors, the ideas that pop into the head, and the fantasies that can begin to seem too true.  A storm rises and threatens to maroon the men on the god-forsaken island for as long as it lasts, with no boats being able to travel and no help coming.  Their close proximity, frequent arguments, and drunkenness drive the two men near madness, with violence only an inch away, and their true natures swimming closer to the surface.

Looking back on my Witch review, and also thinking about Hereditary, it makes complete sense why I liked the followup films better, Lighthouse and Midsommar, respectively.  Eggers and Aster have a lot in common, are coming out at the same time, look amazingly strong from the gate, but their first features were a little too safe, were clinging a little too hard to the genre.  Both their debuts were too horror for my taste, I wanted them to go in a more metaphoric direction; what’s great in both cases is that they did exactly as I asked with their second offerings, and I’m so pleased to see the paths they’re now going down.

Lighthouse was a giant mind game, one huge metaphor, refused to play nice, and that, to me, is why it worked.  You can read into the message in many ways; masculinity, loneliness, repression, guilt.  But I saw it as a God/Father vs Mankind/Son tale, with the light being knowledge, the rock being Earth, humans pulled in so many directions by a mad deity; again, see it in your own way, and I don’t mean everything shown is literally one part of real life or another, just sharing how I generally sensed the point.  Pattinson was bonkers in a good way, when isn’t Dafoe, and both men played off each other so well, riding the waves of insanity that got stronger and stronger as the story unfurled.  The Lighthouse is somehow one of the toughest movies of the year, unyielding and forceful, while definitely also being one of the oddest too, unique and brooding, a combination that had me standing to applaud.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Farewell

Category : Movie Review

Director: Lulu Wang

Starring: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao, Tzi Ma

Year: 2019

Awkwafina continues her meteoric rise, although that may just be among film nerds; I don’t think your mom & dad have heard of her, nor have they seen her few films.  But that’s OK, they will, she’s definitely a talented comedienne growing into a legitimate actress, even if it takes some time for her to polish all the edges.  She shows in The Farewell that she’s already done some buffing, and that she already had the inherent gift to move beyond shtick into more emotional territory.  She’s already won the Golden Globe, not that that means too much, and she might be a contender for an Oscar as well, if that means any more.  But she’s winning our hearts, I guess that’s what counts, and what’s funny is that she’s not even the best part of this film.

Billi and her parents have lived in New York for a long time, moving from China many years ago; her father is a translator, she is an aspiring writer.  Billi speaks the old language imperfectly, but enough to talk to her grandmother back home, and they continue a loving relationship even though so many miles separate them.  When Nai Nai is diagnosed with cancer, her granddaughter is devastated, and wants to be with her right away.  But the family has other plans; lie to Nai Nai, tell her she’s fine, gather for a wedding, and say their goodbyes under the guise of a celebration.  That will be hard for Billi, she wears her emotions of her sleeve, and she & Nai Nai are close, but it might be the last gift she can give her.

This is a true story, which is wild, Lulu Wang’s family did this to her own grandmother, lying in order to save her from the fear of cancer, taking the burden upon themselves instead.  You can argue about the morals of that, Billi sure does, but ultimately you make your own decision, and it really doesn’t affect the quality of the film.  The Farewell is sweet, endearing, funny, moving, and ultimately stronger than I thought it would be.  I will say that without Nai Nai I think I would quickly forget I watched it; Shuzhen Zhao stole the show, and I think definitely overshadowed Awkwafina, who is still growing.  I liked that most of the film was in Chinese, that made perfect sense, I really felt like I was being immersed in another culture, and I would probably watch itagain because I can’t think of anything I really didn’t like, it was all so lovely and well-made.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Report

Category : Movie Review

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Starring: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm

Year: 2019

Adam Driver is having one heckofa year.  The Report, The Dead Don’t Die, Marriage Story, The Rise of Skywalker; I didn’t even like all those movies, but he was probably the best part of each, as he is usually the best part of anything he appears in.  Honestly, it’s more than a great year, it’s more like a great early career, the dude’s on fire, and he’s a transcendent talent: Inside Llewyn Davis, Tracks, What If, Hungry Hearts, The Force Awakens, Midnight Special, Paterson, Silence, The Meyerowitz Stories, Logan Lucky, The Last Jedi, BlaKkKlansman.  My critics group just voted him Best Actor and Actor of the Year, he’s the reason you watch a film, and that’s definitely true about The Report, which only works because of him, and then still not all that well.

Following 9/11, American interrogation tactics were escalated, often past the point of moral license.  The CIA was operating in dark sites in foreign countries, their budget was wide open, they were given free reign to use whatever means necessary, and yet the information they gleaned from prisoners was often minimal, repetitive, or completely fabricated.  Under Senator Dianne Feinstein, an investigator named Daniel Jones began the impossible process of sifting through six millions pages of documentation in order to find the truth about the US torture program; how far it stepped beyond the boundaries of international law, how little it ultimately worked, and who knew that we were simply attempting to fight evil with more evil.

Driver is great as Jones, Bening is solid as Feinstein, but that’s where the positives generally end; the rest of the film is a bore in the guise of an esposé.  We’ve seen this type of movie before, many times before, and maybe we’ve even started to get tired of it, unless one comes along out of the blue that takes the genre up a notch.  Spotlight did, but The Report doesn’t, it’s just another trickle of information that we already knew, delivered to us dramatically, but really without much lasting impact.  Driver is excellent and you can feel his passion, but the story itself is too sleepy, has too little music, is honestly missing a little Hollywood, if that’s not too sacrilegious to say.  As it’s Oscar Season, we expect everything that comes out to be an awards-worthy home run, but that’s simply not what we have here, which is fine, but disappointing.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆