According to a recent survey, only 17 percent of Americans say they can trust the government to do the right thing. That figure is unlikely to increase once audiences get a look at some buzz worthy films coming soon from Amazon Studios, The Report and Seberg. Both films, based on true stories, focus on shocking misconduct and illegal activity at high levels of the executive branch.
Representing The Report at the Contenders Los Angeles Saturday was writer-director Scott Z. Burns, producer Jennifer Fox and cast members Adam Driver and Jon Hamm. Driver plays the real life Daniel J. Jones, a staffer in the office of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein who was assigned to investigate the CIA’s detention and interrogation program devised after 9/11. The report he compiled, large portions of which were redacted before public release, exposed a program of torture that included waterboarding detainees dozens of times.
“I do think we’re living through a time that’s sort of a crisis of accountability,” Burns observed. “People have forgotten the fact that the way our government was set up is that Congress is supposed to provide oversight on the executive branch of the government and we’re seeing that play out right now. So I think a lot of the seeds of this moment were sown during this [detention-interrogation] program and during the struggle for Congress to provide oversight on the CIA during this program which was illegal before they did it.”
Driver consulted with Jones to craft his performance.
“We talked on and off for, I think, a few months leading up to shooting it and Dan was available on set,” Driver shared. “He was very helpful, just adding a level of authenticity to what the set was. And then there’s just… a decorum to him that I tried to take away.”
The Report, co-starring Annette Bening as Sen. Feinstein, opens in theaters November 15.
Seberg, meanwhile, tells the story of actress Jean Seberg, best known for starring in Godard’s classic Breathless, who became a target of an FBI wiretapping and disinformation campaign in the 1960s after she worked in support of the Black Panthers. Benedict Andrews directed, with Kristen Stewart in the title role.
Rachel Morrison, the first woman to earn an Oscar nomination for cinematography, served as DP. She told the Contenders audience Seberg’s story speaks to today.
“For me it was the discovery of sort of early false news, the fact that the FBI published this false story in a tabloid magazine that basically destroyed a woman’s life,” she said. “History repeats itself. I mean now it isn’t just the government. It is things like your phone listening to you, Alexa listening to you. It’s almost like now we’ve become accustomed to it. There’s this idea that you’re sort of aware that anything you say or do could be used against you in a court of public opinion almost.”
Seberg, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, opens theatrically December 13.
Amazon Studios picked up another awards contender, Honey Boy, out of the Sundance Film Festival, for $5M (it bought The Report there for an estimated $14M).
Shia LeBeouf wrote the autobiographical film, touching on emotional trauma he describes suffering as a prominent child actor, while in a rehab facility where he’d been sent under court order. He sent a handful of script pages to Israeli filmmaker Alma Har’el, who encouraged him (and later signed on to direct).
“She said this might be a narrative so I kept writing and it kind of fueled—it gave me hope, like a little mustard seed and I kept running with that,” LeBeouf commented, adding of Har’el, “She’s also been an artist I admired and the tastiest person I know.”
LeBeouf plays James Lort, a stand-in for his own father. Two actors play Lort’s son Otis (the Shia stand-in) at stages of his youth—Noah Jupe as 12-year-old Otis and Lucas Hedges as Otis at 22.
“It was scary and it was pretty terrifying because obviously I’m technically playing [Shia] which is just a weird thing to think about,” Jupe admitted. He called the experience, “This crazy sort of spiritual, wonderful thing and very emotionally opening for me…I’ve discovered a lot of parts of myself that I would never have without this movie.”