The facts, coherently and carefully laid out here, are compelling: Jones and a small group of researchers, pouring over documents and transcripts, pierced the shroud of obfuscation put in place to protect those responsible for implementing, carrying out, and later defending the "enhanced interrogation" tactics that did so much damage to America's reputation abroad. As the Jones discovers, and Burns makes a point of circling with red ink, the black sites, waterboarding sessions, and brutal "learned helplessnes" methods of the torture program were ineffective in producing valuable intelligence. That distinction, dramatized at various points in the film via flashbacks, is central to the movie's larger argument: These cruel, evil strategies, concocted by inexperienced psychologists, didn't even achieve their intended effects.
In telling this intricate, year-spanning story, Burns allows moments of wryness to sneak in. The drab PowerPoint presentation used to sell the program has a terrifying, numbing familiarity to it, a reminder of how jargon gets deployed to hide ethical depravity in a number of industries. If it looks official, with the proper diagrams and bullet points in place, it must be right!
Similarly, some of the scenes with Tim Blake Nelson's Raymond Nathan, a CIA medical officer who witnessed many of the heinous acts committed at these sites, have a touch of bleak humor to them. While The Report isn't a zany comedy like The Informant! or The Laundromat, the two ripped-from-the-headlines movies Burns wrote for director Steven Soderbergh, it does display an ear for the absurd at crucial points.