February 2, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “The Report” & “Them That Follow”


THE REPORT (Amazon):  Scott Z. Burns’s political expose is important and engrossing, but it’s composed of so much exposition that it may have trouble finding a mainstream audience.  (Which made Amazon’s decision to pay $14M to acquire it somewhat surprising.)  The film is concerned with two overlapping cover-ups over a period of years, set into motion when the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Diane Feinstein (here played by Annette Bening) commissioned a report on the Bush Administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” after 9/11, and whether those techniques constituted torture and violated US and international law.  The report was spearheaded by Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), who first had to endure the Bush officials’ efforts to withhold the relevant information–and then, when the report finally managed to be written, to fight for it to be released in the face of the Obama Administration’s “post-partisan” unwillingness to stir the political pot.  The events depicted in the film are remarkable and infuriating, and the sprawling cast, in addition to Driver and Bening, includes Jon Hamm (as the story’s main smooth-talking Obama representative), Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney and Corey Stoll.  They all have their work cut out for them, because Burns’s script is all exposition all the time, with no interest at all in developing anyone, not even Jones, as a three-dimensional character.  And this isn’t Aaron Sorkin-esque witty, fun exposition either, it’s a “this will be on your final exam” stream of data.  Nevertheless, the passion of all involved pays off with often gripping drama.  Driver’s haunted, obsessive performance goes a long way to giving us a central figure we can feel for, and there are atmospheric, paranoia-fueling technical contributions in 1970s style from cinematographer Eigil Bryld, composer David Wingo, and production designer Ethan Tobman.

THEM THAT FOLLOW (1091 Media):  A slow-building melodrama about an evangelical Christian snake handling congregation in Appalachia.  Although the sympathies of filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage are clearly with Mara (Alice Englert), the increasingly restive daughter of preacher Lemuel (Walton Goggins), they refuse to condemn the worshippers, even though their belief system revolves around sinners wrapping themselves in rattlesnakes.  (If you don’t die, God has forgiven you your sins.)  Mara is caught in a triangle with Augie (Thomas Mann), the non-believer she cares for, and Garret (Lewis Pullman), the man Lemuel wants her to marry, and in this context, that kind of romantic conflict can turn deadly.  Poulton and Savage have an uneven command of pacing, but once the snakes come into play in the final act, things become quite intense.  It helps that Englert and Goggins are joined by the reliably great Olivia Colman as Augie’s mother, and that somewhat more surprisingly, Colman is well-matched with Jim Gaffigan as her husband.  (In what almost amounts to an in-joke, another co-star is Kaitlyn Dever, who put in her time with Goggins in Appalachia on Justified.)  Them That Follows is far from a multiplex movie, but it’s worthy of attention.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."