“Kill the Messenger” – Review by Daniel Rester

Drug and Government Mixings in Kill the Messenger


Kill the Messenger

Review by Daniel Rester

            Jeremy Renner has a level of intensity and determination that he brings to each role, making his characters both believable and boiling with emotion underneath. It’s the actor’s style in his use of restraint and outward display of fierceness that makes him excellent. Such works as The Hurt Locker (2009) and The Town (2010) showcase Renner at his best, and now Kill the Messenger sits alongside them.

Messenger tells the story of investigative reporter Gary Webb and is based on the book of the same name (2006) by Nick Schou and the book Dark Alliance (1998) by Webb. In 1996, Webb wrote a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News that allegedly linked the CIA to the crack epidemic in Los Angeles. His reporting alleged that the CIA supported the smuggling of cocaine into the United States, where it was used to help raise funds for the Nicaraguan Contras.

Messenger follows Webb as he uncovers these secrets and then is put in the media circus and attacked by other newspapers. Some papers believed his journalism was faulty, though others say the papers were just jealous because they didn’t catch onto the story first. In recent years, Webb’s work has been vindicated by other news organizations, though this is not covered in the film.

Webb did receive the Journalist of the Year Award in 1996, but the controversy that surrounded his work basically undid his career as a mainstream journalist. And in 2004 Webb was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the head, which was judged as a suicide. Messenger takes Webb’s side of the story as it covers his life circa 1996.

The film is written by Peter Landesman and directed by Michael Cuesta, with Renner surrounded by a grade-A supporting cast including Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, and Robert Patrick. Damn that’s a lot of great acting talent. Yet they all lend to the story without trying to stand out, letting Renner and Webb’s work take the lead.

The main thing that hurts Messenger is its familiar touch in terms of “the government does bad things secretly,” though that isn’t really the film’s fault. Webb’s story is certainly an intriguing one that deserved to be told. It’s just that the ultimate reveals don’t have the surprise or impact that they should in the film. Perhaps the movie should have been made closer to the when the actual events took place, as now they are less talked about and blend in the background with other past controversial topics.

Though Messenger doesn’t rise way above its genre crowd in terms of memorability, it is still an expertly made film. Landesman’s tight writing and Cuesta’s sure-handed direction helps to keep us invested as Webb uncovers things in his investigation. All of the plot strings could have easily made for a convoluted slog of a film, yet the filmmakers keep things clear and moving; Brian A. Kates’ swift but assured editing definitely helps with this, nicely blending in some real-life footage along the way.

What helps keep Messenger interesting is that it doesn’t end with a triumph note as Webb publishes his article. That’s just the midpoint. Getting to see the risk Webb put himself through for publishing said article gives the film a boost, though the story never builds up the palpable suspense it thinks it has (except for one scene in a parking garage that is a nail-biter). Yet the movie does have a melancholy touch near the end that is compelling, with Webb’s speech words about honest journalism and the fear of truth ringing as genuine.

Messenger is a good film that is only made really good due to Renner’s excellent performance (he also helped produce the film). The film deserves a bit more of that sting to it that dramatic biopics can bring to the table over documentaries; more time with the characters outside of the main “I’m telling the truth, you’re not” storyline would have also been nice (though there are a couple of strong moments between Webb and his kids). Despite its flaws, though, Messenger is worth seeing and dwelling on because of Renner’s acting and Webb’s story. I just wish the film had a bit more punch as an indignation piece though.

Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).

MPAA Rating: R (for language and drug content).

Runtime: 1 hour and 52 minutes.  

U.S. Release Date: October 10th, 2014 (limited); October 17th, 2014 (wider).

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