A reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to the point of suicide after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb.
‘Kill The Messenger’ is one of these films that is released with the Oscars in mind, but ends up falling just short when the nominations are announced, subsequently ending up with a later release (at least in the UK). It’s a shame that this film will likely go under the radar because it’s very good, and it features a terrific lead performance from Jeremy Renner. The film focuses on the true story of journalist Gary Webb (Renner), a maverick who uncovered the CIA’s dubious role in importing drugs into the US in order to fund a rebel army in Nicaragua. If you haven’t heard of this story before that’s perhaps not a surprise – at the time, the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal took centre stage in the media, which says all you need to know about the priorities of the mainstream media.
The film is about the corruption within the CIA and the attempts to quieten Webb (who was determined enough not to go away quietly), but I found it to be more interested in journalistic procedure and the lengths someone will go too to find out the truth. In that sense I found it very similar to ‘All The President’s Men’ (also journalism), and ‘Zodiac’ (detective work), both of whom also go into great detail about the investigative process. This is where ‘Kill The Messenger’ excels, as we follow Webb as he interviews people that may have been involved, deals with his bosses and dubious CIA operatives who are trying to quash the story. Each layer of corruption that Webb uncovers brings new levels of intrigue and an increasing sense of danger, and director Michael Cuesta ramps up the stakes superbly (Cuesta also helmed 4 episodes in ‘Homeland’s stellar first series, which shares many similarities with his work here).
The other aspect that makes all of this so watchable is Jeremy Renner, in one of his finest performances to date. He plays Webb with a level of intensity that shows both why he is such a good journalist, and why he drives others away from him, as he becomes utterly consumed by the investigation and exasperated that others don’t share in his conviction. Renner shines in a couple of outstanding scenes, namely one where he is informed that his paper is going to publish a retraction of his story and he really goes to town, but he also excels in the quieter moments when it feels as if the pressure brought on by his work is getting to be too much. He’s ably supported by a superb supporting cast with a series of well known names filling out the cast.
An excellent tale of journalistic integrity, ‘Kill The Messenger’ shines a light on corruption within the highest echelons of the CIA, with Jeremy Renner’s crusading performance giving the film gripping momentum. Recommended.
Directed By: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Richard Schiff, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick, Michael K. Williams, Jena Sims, Joshua Close, Lucas Hedges and Yul Vazquez