By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on actual events, Kill the Messenger dramatizes the investigative reporting of Gary Webb and his attempts to expose the C.I.A.’s support of the Nicaraguan Contras through drug trafficking. The result is a disturbing and engrossing film, but one held back by the filmmakers’ reliance on government conspiracy cliches and tropes. To be fair, I have not read the books which form the basis of the screenplay. However, for the most part, the movie sticks to a familiar formula. Nevertheless, the film does manage to deliver some shocking surprises.
Jeremy Renner stars as Webb, a San Jose Mercury News reporter hungry for the huge story through which he can make an impact on the world. Webb gets his opportunity while covering another story. He gets a tip from a connection which leads Webb to discover that the C.I.A. had its hands in the drug trade, importing copious amounts of cocaine into the U.S. and using the earnings to fund the Contra rebellion in Nicaraugua. As Webb digs deeper, he draws more attention from the C.I.A. who will use all of their power to stop his investigation and/or discredit his claims.
Screenwriter Peter Landesman and director Michael Cuesta do manage to make a movie which engages, but I just wish that their film didn’t come across like so many other government conspiracy films that have preceded it. All of the same story elements are rehashed plentifully. Webb encounters government spooks, he receives threats on his life and family, and “deep throated” snitches appear. Like I previously stated, I have no idea how the books (Webb’s Dark Aliance, Nick Shou’s Kill the Messenger) portray the events. Still, much of the film feels somewhat contrived and cliche. On the more positive side, the film does have its intense and chilling moments and Jeremy Renner delivers such a tremendous performance that I hope awards voters are taking notice.
Renner, who is already known for excellence in his acting, does not disappoint whatsoever. The main strength of this film comes from the writing, development and portrayal of Gary Webb as a movie character. He truly comes across as a real person should. Landesman, Cuesta and Renner do not simply present Webb as a two-dimensional hero, they show that he is a man who has his character flaws. He is a reporter obsessed with his investigation and this obsession manages to alienate his wife and family. He certainly doesn’t lack heart and passion, but his priorities often get skewed. Renner brings that requisite heart and passion to this role.
Because of the powerful moments in the movie, the acting of Jeremy Renner, as well as the importance of this story, Kill the Messenger is a movie that I would still recommend as a matinee movie or rental. The whole film may play out as dictated by a conspiracy template, but because it is based on a real person and the development of that character does come across genuinely, it deserves an audience. Though once discredited and dismissed, Gary Webb’s story does need to be told.