Directed by Michael Cuesta. Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt.
THE PLOT: Investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) becomes the centre of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic of LA in the 1980s.

THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, Kill the Messenger feels a little like an episode of House of Cards, at times. Jeremy Renner is on fantastic form as the tenacious and thorough Gary Webb. Renner makes the character believable and relatable and, although he struggles against a flabby script at times, Renner forms the heart and soul of the film. The rest of the cast is made up of Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Andy Garcia. Each do fine in their roles, but since this is the story of Webb and his exposé, they are rarely anything other than supporting characters, who flit in and out as the story requires.

The film is based the book KILL THE MESSENGER by Nick Schou and DARK ALLIANCE by Gary Webb. The story is a look at the relationships between a journalist, the public and the government, as a journalist at a local newspaper uncovers a massive scandal that implicates the US government in trafficking drugs into the country. The screenplay starts off well, making Webb’s investigation tight and speedy. The trouble arises after the story is published, at which point the film becomes flabby and overwrought, as it tries to shine a light on the effect that being discredited had on both Webb and his family. As well as this, characters wander in and out of the story, making it feel messy.

Michael Cuesta’s direction is strong to begin with, but soon descends into messy pacing and seemingly ridiculous plot points, The cast give strong performances, and Renner valiantly tries to carry the film all by himself, but KILL THE MESSENGER could have done with a stronger hand, and some clearer direction other, it seems, than outrage at the treatment of its protagonist.

In all, KILL THE MESSENGER has all the right ingredients to be fantastic and strong thriller. Instead, due to some weak storytelling choices, the second half of the film descends into chaos and, although there is a true and tragic story here, Webb’s legacy deserves more than this.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Kill The Messenger
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Coming in somewhat under the radar (i.e. with little publicity or fanfare), Kill The Messenger is one of those whistleblower-type stories in which we follow one man’s fight against the system. In the 1990s, reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) works for local paper the San Jose Mercury News. It’s not exactly the revered Washington Post or the New York Times, but Webb makes a living on it. Like all reporters, he wants to find that one story that will make his name. He finds it in the form of a high-level conspiracy involving the CIA and Contra rebels. During the 1980s, the CIA allegedly funded the Contra rebels in Nicaragua by allowing tonnes of cocaine to be imported onto the streets of California. Webb follows the trail, but soon finds himself hitting brick walls and being pursued by bigger, more malicious spiders. Witnesses like incarcerated criminal Meneses (Andy Garcia) change their testimony, CIA spooks start shadowing him, his editor Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) tells him to back down and his wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) becomes more concerned. But nothing will stop Webb from getting the truth out there, even if it involves battling a smear campaign… Based on a true story, Kill The Messenger has high goals and aspirations. This is an issue that goes to the very heart of American democracy – that of free speech. But even free speech has its limits and that comes at a costly professional and personal price for Webb. There’s a lot to admire in Michael Cuesta’s film – it’s got a driven central performance from the reliable Renner and there’s a good supporting cast that also includes Michael Sheen, Robert Patrick, Tim Blake Nelson and Barry Pepper (all appearing far too briefly though). The story is certainly an interesting one, but Cuesta never really gets to the meat of the matter in the same way that Michael Mann did with The Insider. It feels a little too simplistic, as if Cuesta didn’t fully buy into Webb’s theory and is showing a little too much reverence for his subject. From a non-American perspective, the political backdrop could do with a bit more explaining as well. However, Kill The Messenger is certainly interesting enough to be worth a look. ***