Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Brief Reviews: The Report and Marriage Story

In the Driver's Seat -- Two reviews by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Two movies starring Adam Driver that you can see in the comfort of your home: The comedy-drama, Marriage Story (Netflix) also stars an impressive Scarlett Johansson and is a strong Oscar contender.  The Report (Amazon) is a political thriller with Annette Bening as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, tasking Driver's character to investigate the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Program (torture) in the aftermath of 9/11.

Marriage Story - A Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher (Netflix)

It's strange, here we have one of the most highly regarded films of the year, and I couldn't get anyone, male or female to watch it with me,  Is it me?  Scarlett Johansson?  Adam Driver?  Both of them?  All three of us?  I have decided to blame Kramer vs. Kramer, the 1979 weeper that won five Oscars, including Best Picture, beating out the classic Apocalypse Now (the horror, the horror).  It is my belief that the film gods were so offended they poisoned the waters for every "nice people going through a divorce while trying not to damage cute child" flick in the future.  FYI: The comedy-drama Marriage Story is head and shoulders above KvK.

Marriage Story lays its cards on the table immediately.  Charlie (Driver) narrates a quick run-through listing all of wife Nicole's (Johansson) endearing qualities as we see her in highlight format displaying them.  Then the script flips and Nicole does the same for Charlie.  We learn that these lists have been assigned by a divorce counselor as a device to remember the value the other person holds.  Charlie, you see, is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker whose gift for avant-garde playwriting/directing has made him a rising star.  After convincing budding LA-based TV star Nicole to act in his production company, a whirlwind romance led to marriage, parenthood--son, Henry (Azhy Robertson)--and less than a decade later, a break-up.

At the root of it all, it seems, is Charlie's oft-stated claim that “We’re a New York family,” a belief Nicole never bought into, as her family and her career aspirations remain in Los Angeles.  A TV pilot could be the big break for Nicole, so she takes Henry to her mother's (Julie Hagerty) home.  And a split that begins amicably enough turns when lawyers enter the mix: the brilliant Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) for Nicole; the shark Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) and then the lackadaisical Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) for Charlie.  As we move wildly but seamlessly from laughter at human foibles to mistiness at human frailty and back again, we find along the way that these characters are as likable as they are maddening, and we truly care what happens to them.

Marriage Story may not be Annie Hall (what is?), but like Woody Allen's classic, it portrays genuine people in situations we can either relate to or at least understand.  Noah Baumbach draws dynamic portrayals that are beautifully cast.  Adam Driver adds his most layered performance to his vitae, this is arguably Scarlett Johansson's best performance to date, and Laura Dern is electric.  Baumbach's name should be mentioned a lot this winter, as he is one of the producers, and this film will gain notice in Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay circles as one of the best films of the year.  Look for a half-dozen Oscar nominations.
8.5 out of 10

The Report - a Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher (Amazon Prime)

Consider The Report the counterpoint to Zero Dark Thirty's point.  Presented in plodding gumshoe form like Spotlight, it's the kind of film that depends on a compelling story well-acted and presented to be successful, and for the most part, it succeeds.  This fact-based story describes the six-year struggle of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to investigate CIA's post-9/11 “Detention and Interrogation Program;” specifically, its “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”--a handy euphemism for torture.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Dick Cheney ominously warned that the US would be “going to the dark side” to make sure future terrorist attacks on our soil would not occur.  The translation of this vague edict is left to the interpretation of intelligence officer Bernadette (Maura Tierney) and CIA counsel Thomas Eastman (Michael C. Hall). They, in turn, resort to indiscriminate "extraordinary rendition" (illegal international kidnappings) and spiriting the prisoners to "black sites."  They hire two psychologists, James Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) and Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith), whose research claims to obtain information by generating dread and “learned helplessness” in its victim through such techniques as stress positions, waterboarding, insects, mock burials, and sleep deprivation through deafening noise.

Jones' report is harrowing, and it strikes at institutional insanity.  Example: Jones relates to Feinstein that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times without results, prompting her to ask, "If it works, why did they need to do it 183 times?" As Jones becomes more incensed, he becomes more committed to documenting war crimes and making them public.  But the CIA is powerful; so are the politicians that support the policy--even Obama, through his Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm), who gives a hearty thanks but no thanks to Jones for his efforts.  In his ongoing battles,  overt and covert, Jones confronts a variety of Beltway insiders, friend and foe: CIA director John Brennan (Ted Levine), CIA Counsel Caroline D. Krauss (Jennifer Morrison), Office of Medical Services physician and torture opponent Dr. Raymond Nathan (Tim Blake Nelson), FBI Agent working the Bin Laden investigation Ali Soufan (Fajer Al-Kaisi),  New York Times reporter (Matthew Rhys), to whom Jones considers leaking elements of his report, defense attorney Cyrus Clifford (Corey Stoll), a variety of congressmen played by actors you will recognize, and look for the character Gretchen, played by Driver's real-life wife Joanne Tucker.

Some images in The Report are difficult to watch--if you've seen pictures from Abu Ghraib, you know what we mean--and some of the re-enactments suggest such disturbing techniques that the Czarina left to read her book in peace.  As can be seen by the cast list, a ton of top talent signed on.  Driver is driven, and Annette Bening stands out, playing Feinstein as strong but pragmatic and clever.   The film has currency: a whistleblower tale that comes down on the side of the informant and reminds us that taking on the government is a dangerous business.  Like Spotlight, mentioned above,  The Report is talky and grim, but riveting; unlike Spotlight, though, no justice is found to satisfy the indignation we feel.  Despite years of fighting the good fight, Jones was left unsatisfied for, as you know, no one was convicted for violating the Geneva Conventions for crimes against humanity.


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