Veteran screenwriter Scott Z. Burns stepped behind the camera as a director for the first time with “The Report,” a fact-based drama about one man’s search for truth while facing down an intractable political bureaucracy. His critically acclaimed directorial debut could land him in the Oscar race for the first time. Could a Best Original Screenplay nomination be his for the taking?
Burns is best known for his collaborations with Steven Soderbergh (who serves as a producer on this film), with whom he made “The Informant!” (2009), “Contagion” (2011), “Side Effects” (2013) and “The Laundromat” (2019). Burns could actually find himself competing in both screenplay categories this year since “The Laundromat” is eligible in the adapted race. He’s no stranger to awards, having competed at the BAFTAs for Best British Film (2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum”) and at the Gotham Awards for Best Documentary (2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” which he produced). But Oscar voters have yet to take notice.
That could change with this Amazon Studios release, which recounts the struggle of senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) to deliver a massive report on the human rights abuses perpetrated by the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Like “All the President’s Men” (1976) and “Spotlight” (2015) before it, it’s a “just the facts, ma’am” look at a real-life investigation into institutional wrongdoing (both of those films, by the way, won Oscars for their screenplays). Jones is relentless in his pursuit of the truth, and Burns’s hard-boiled approach avoids melodramatic clutter.
SEE David Wingo Interview: ‘The Report’ composer
Yet there’s also a great deal of emotion in his script, particularly in the conflict between Jones and his boss, California Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening). Like Jones, the veteran politician wants to get to the bottom of the torture program. But she also knows the ins-and-out of Washington, D.C., and understands that a strategic misstep could cost them everything. The two clash about the process, but their mission is the same: to bring the human rights abuses of the Bush White House — ostensibly done in the name of national security — to light.
So, in the spirit of the movie, let’s cut to the chase: Burns’s script for “The Report” is a real contender.
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