Tag Archives: B

I SEE YOU






Producer: Matt Waldeck   Director: Adam Randall   Screenplay: Devon Graye   Cast: Helen Hunt, John Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Libe Barer, Greg Alan Williams, Erika Alexander, Allison King, Sam Trammell, Adam Kern, Riley Caya and Brooks Roseberry   Distributor:  Saban Films

Grade:  B

“I See You” is a trick, but a pretty good one.  After toying with us for forty minutes by presenting a combination of haunted house horror movie, dysfunctional family drama and child abduction thriller, it doubles back in its second forty to explain what we’ve seen from a different perspective.  The wrap-up may be a mite too clever for its own good, but you have to admire the chutzpah involved.

The film begins with an almost idyllic summer scene in a small Ohio town, ending with a boy named Justin (Riley Cava) riding off on his bicycle.  As he speeds through a forest path, however, he is literally swept off his bike as if lifted by some unnatural power, and disappears.  The police soon are on the scene, led by veteran officer Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams) and his partner Greg Harper (Jon Tenney).  Justin’s the second child to go missing in the past days, and a knife Spitzky finds near his abandoned bike reminds him of a similar spate of child abductions years ago.

Greg, however, is not at his best.  His wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) has recently been discovered having an affair, and though she insists that it’s over, he still hasn’t gotten over the revelation.  Their son Connor (Judah Lewis) is even angrier, blaming Jackie for destroying their family.  When odd noises and disturbing events—some involving Todd (Sam Trammell), the man Jackie’s been involved with, another a repairman (Adam Kern) and finally one threatening Connor—occur, the narrative seems to be suggesting either a home invasion, insanity in the family, or supernatural intervention, perhaps a manifestation of the threesome’s turmoil.

Then the clock is abruptly turned back, and two new characters are introduced—Mindy (Libe Barer), a flighty teen, and her apparent boyfriend Alec (Owen Teague).  The style of the picture changes too, sometimes reverting to the equivalent of found-footage cinema.  It would be unfair to reveal what this means for the plot, but it adds a new dimension to the story that’s been told so far, and following the trajectory of the added characters dovetails with the events we’re already seen, deepening their import.

As it enters the final fifteen minutes or so, “I See You” attempts to tie together all the plot threads from both of its earlier sections.  The effort isn’t entirely successful—a few coincidences strain credulity past the breaking point, and the connection of what’s happened to the child abduction scenario is forced. 

Still, overall this is an engaging puzzle, and you have to congratulate Devon Graye for fashioning the pieces so nicely and Adam Randall for fitting them together as smoothly as he does.  Randall’s assisted by a good cast.  Latecomers Teague and Barer make the strongest impressions, but Tenney seethes convincingly.  Oddly Hunt, while top-billed, is rather one-note, caught up in apologetic, weepy gloom, and Lewis is similarly given to adolescent angst and anger.  Philipp Blaubach should be singled out for cinematography—including some soaring helicopter shots—that’s creepy and evocative, and Jeffrey Castelluccio for editing that keeps the plot’s intricacies clear as the puzzle pieces fall into place.  The growling score by William Arcane contributes to the unsettling atmosphere.

As far as cinematic conundrums go, “Knives Out” will get more attention than this little low-budget entry, but “I See You” deserves a look too.           

THE REPORT

Producer: Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Kerry Orent, Michael Sugar, Danny Gabai and Eddy Moretti
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Stars: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, John Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, John Rothman, Joanne Tucker, Ian Blackman, Dominic Fumusa, Fajer Kaisi, Zuhdi Boueri, Douglas Hodge, T. Ryder Smith, Carlos Gomez, Ratnesh Dubey, Scott Shepherd, Caroline Krass, Matthew Rhys, Kate Beahan and James Hindman
Studio: Amazon Studios

B

Anyone craving a modern counterpart to the classic political thrillers of the seventies—whether fact-based docu-dramas like “All the President’s Men” or pieces of paranoid fiction like “The Parallax View”—should welcome Scott Z. Burns’s “The Report,” ever if it traffics more in low-key recreation than nerve-wracking suspense. Like the recent but little-seen British import “Official Secrets,” it deals with an actual case involving people eventually resorting to whistleblowing when the system obstructs their attempts to bring evidence of governmental malfeasance to public scrutiny, but in this case the locale is not London but Washington, D.C. Of course, given recent events in the nation’s capital, it also speaks to our current political situation even though it deals with events from the past, though the recent past.

The titular document is a report about the use of what were euphemistically called enhanced interrogation techniques—i.e., torture—by the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11. (The clever opening credits give the title first as “The Torture Report,” with the second word then blacked out as though it were being redacted.) It was compiled over the course of five years by a small group of researchers appointed by a congressional oversight committee; here the process begins when Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), a staff member in the office of California Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening), is chosen to head the effort to look into what actually occurred after questions are raised about the destruction of videos made during the CIA interrogation of prisoners.

As Jones and his team sift through the documents reluctantly provided by the agency under assurances of confidentiality, Burns uses flashbacks to show what had happened. At first the interrogation sessions were conducted using conventional techniques by professionals like Arab-speaking agent Ali Soufari (Fajer Kaisi), but when the results were not sufficiently actionable to satisfy the upper echelons of the agency, two consultants, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (Douglas Hodge and T. Ryder Smith), were hired. They claimed to have developed more efficient and productive interrogation methods, the brutality of which horrified CIA operatives like Raymond Nathan (Tim Blake Nelson), who was forced to watch the sessions and later became a backstage source for Jones.

In identifying the origins of the “enhanced” program Burns’s script points an accusing finger at top figures in the George W. Bush administration—in particular Vice-President Dick Cheney—shown here, as he also was in “Vice,” as the main promoter of the process, though CIA Director George Tenet (Dominic Fumusa) and members of his staff—played by the likes of Maura Tierney and Michael C. Hall—hardly get a pass.

Nor does the Obama administration escape Burns’s censure. It ended the Enhanced Interrogation program, but is portrayed as choosing to keep under wraps an investigation conducted by the CIA itself, which concluded that the process had been ineffectual and revealed that misidentifications and faulty intelligence had actually resulted in the imprisonment and mistreatment of the wrong people. Yet the new CIA Director, John Brennan (Ted Levine), seeks to protect the Agency by burying the report, and the President and his chief of staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm) are complicit in his effort for utterly pragmatic political reasons.

Finally Jones takes a step that violates the Senate’s understanding with the CIA and has serious ramifications both for him and Feinstein. That explains scenes in which he meets with a New York Times reporter, and more chillingly with a high-priced lawyer (Corey Stoll) whose advice he urgently seeks to avoid prosecution.

“The Report” offers a rather dry chronological account of the compilation of the enormous titular document, given urgency by the intensity Driver brings to his role of an honest man seeking to make certain the truth will be brought to public attention. But Burns situates Jones’s personal crusade within the larger Washington context, from CIA offices to White House briefing rooms and conference rooms in the Senate, where Feinstein—played by Bening with a composed air that, combined with perfect makeup and costuming, captures the essence of the real person—and other senators like Sheldon Whitehouse (John Rothman) and Mark Udall (Scott Shepherd) play roles in the gradually unfolding drama. John McCain, understandably a staunch opponent of torture in any form, also appears, but in archival clips that are periodically inserted into the dramatic recreations.

Crafted by Burns with taste and care, and with able contributions from production designer Ethan Tobman and costumer Susan Lyell, “The Report” captures the closed, quietly dangerous atmosphere of Washington well; cinematographer Eigil Bryld’s images are especially effective in conveying the clubby, insular texture of the nation’s seats of power, while editor Greg O’Bryant lays the facts out efficiently and calmly, balancing the story’s various threads without the distortion that a sense of righteous anger might have invited. The major departure from the air of prevailing straightforwardness is in the treatment of Mitchell and Jessen, who are ridiculed as almost farcical con-men who effectively hoodwinked—and disgraced—the CIA.

The result is a somber, almost solemn account of a stain on America’s claim to act with honor and rectitude even under extreme pressure—an engrossing docu-drama that, by avoiding excessive sensationalism or partisanship, invites viewers to think seriously about the issues of governmental decision-making and secrecy that Daniel Jones’s story raises. It’s not as flashy as “All the President’s Men,” “The Parallel View” or other similar films of their time, but its more restrained, reflective approach may be better suited to evoking the sort of rational discourse that has become increasingly rare in today’s political climate.