Directed by Michael Cuesta
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt
Jeremy Renner takes on production and acting duties to bring the story of whistle-blower Gary Webb, who exposed (and we can argue the specifics of how much evidence he uncovered elsewhere, thank you very much) the CIA’s program of cocaine smuggling to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Kill The Messenger occupies similar conceptual territory as Michael Mann’s The Insider or even Oliver Stone’s JFK – it’s the story of a flawed but moral man, Webb (Jeremy Renner), a crime reporter for a small time newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, who almost by accident starts working his way up the food chain of a drug cartel to discover that, if the Central Intelligence Agency isn’t at the top, they’re certainly tightly connected to the operation. His articles on the subject bring him acclaim and stir outrage in the African American community, who have taken the brunt of the crack epidemic, but it isn’t long before the journalistic establishment are turning against him and his reputation takes a battering.
Kill The Messenger works exceedingly well when it’s stirring up feelings of outrage and righteous indignation – and it’s hard not to get riled up when impassive government suits are making veiled threats against Webb’s family and the news orthodoxy cranks up its smear campaign against him. Renner is very good as the dogged, swaggering Webb, and he’s abetted by a truly excellent supporting cast – in addition to Rosemarie DeWitt as his wife and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Oliver Platt as his bosses, we get small turns from Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper and Michael K. Williams. However – and perhaps this is simply an inherent risk when adapting the real world to the screen – as the film progresses it begins to run out of steam, becoming flabbier and less propulsive as the clock ticks over. While the film is always watchable, it’s largely the strong performances shoring up the plot as it gradually loses momentum, rolling to a stop rather than progressing to a conclusion.
It’s is certainly worth your attention, though. Webb’s story is a controversial and fascinating one, no matter what your opinions on his credibility. Still, the scale and implications of his actual story are not as well translated as they could be, and the resulting film is a solid and entertaining effort, when it could have been a must-see.