JEREMY RENNER ROSEMARIE DEWITT MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD
OLIVER PLATT TIM BLAKE NELSON RAY LIOTTA ANDY GARCIA MICHAEL SHEEN ROBERT
PATRICK GIL BELLOWS PAZ VEGA RICHARD SCHIFF LUCAS HEDGES
KILL THE MESSENGER
Few films are correctly labeled as important, not because of cinematic relevance
but political and social relevance. Director Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger
is better, stronger, and more effecting that anyone probably imagines before sitting
down in front of it. Cuesta hasn’t been behind the camera of a film since his 2005
feature 12 and Holding starring a young Renner. Before that he made his debut in
the controversial L.I.E. Kill the Messenger is not only his best work to date but
Oscar nominated Renner (American Hustle, The Bourne Legacy) gives his best performance
since The Hurt Locker. There is never a dull moment in this informative thriller
that understands the media’s role of importance in exposing dark truths.
San Jose Mercury News reporters Gary Webb (Renner) gets into a story that leads
to one of the biggest exposes of the decade. Webb has never dealt with a story this
large, nor has his small town paper. When Webb’s article titled Dark Alliance is
published the entire national and especially the CIA in which he is exposing comes
after him and his family. Webb’s article accuses the CIA of using money from drug
trafficking to buy weapons and fun a war that otherwise was out of the budget. Webb
and his family become targets of his own government, he is demoted to a smaller arm
of the newspaper, and furious of the scoop, larger network papers begin to exploit
“Some stories are just too true to tell,” Fred Weil (Sheen) tells Gary Webb when
they meet off the record. Kill the Messenger is a Pelican Brief meets Traffic type
of thriller, it’s just backed up by a true story and an Oscar worthy performance
from Renner. The entire cast is really well assembled, DeWitt who continues to further
her onscreen presence, transitioning from a career in television, is also great here.
Most of the recognizable names in the cast have one seen, but they are chosen for
their ability to make that one scene count in a list of important characters.
The film starts shifting gears and picking up speed in a high tension court room
scene where Gary feeds attorney Alan Fenster (Nelson) questions and info that make
everyone very uncomfortable. This sets the tone for the remainder of the film, that
uncomfortable idea that this journalist known more than he should feeling. Sharp
editing plays a significant part in the success of this film. The film isn’t all
conspiracy, suspense and accusation; there is a tear jerking scene with Gary and
his 16-year-old son in the garage that is one of the highlights of the film and really
scores high marks for young actor Lucas Hedges.
Final Thought - Renner gives a tour de force performance.
By: Dustin Chase
Boy! They got the title right for this film! Gary Webb, the subject of Kill the
Messenger, says at one point, “I thought my job was to tell the truth”, and most
of us would agree that that should be a high priority for a journalist; but, unfortunately,
there is sometimes a heavy price to pay in doing so. Gary (Jeremy Renner) works
for the newspaper in San Jose, California, and is contacted by a Nicaraguan woman
with grand jury documents that were mistakenly released. They contain information
about the CIA’s complicity with Central American drug dealers to raise money to support
the Contras in Nicaragua who were opposed to the democratically elected Sandanista
government (which they regarded as socialist and bordering on communism). After
Congress voted not to allocate money for the Contras, the CIA resorted to getting
money from the sale of drugs to pay for the Contras. The dealers were given free
rein to sell drugs in L.A., and the CIA would pass its cut on to the Contras. According
to Webb, this arrangement brought crack cocaine into the state of California. Gary
follows up on the information with diligence, visiting some of the players in Nicaragua
and attempting to talk to the CIA in Washington.
But, indeed, as soon as his story broke, eliciting responses from all over the world,
a huge backlash from the CIA and news media soon developed to discount not only the
story, but Gary personally. Obviously, the CIA wanted to cover up what they had
done; and the major news networks were disgruntled about upstaged by a small newspaper.
So to discredit the story and cover themselves, they dug into Gary’s past and any
mistake he ever made was broadcast—as if that were relevant to the story. Eerily,
two people in particular had warned Gary that this could happen to him (it had previously
happened to them), but he believed so passionately in what he was doing, he was undeterred,
and finally resorted to writing a book about it to get the story out. I’m so glad
he was able to accomplish that. Nevertheless, the CIA issued a report in 1998 that
denied Webb’s allegations, except for the agency knowing about the drug trafficking.
This is probably Renner’s best role yet, and may win award nominations for him,
depending perhaps on the reception of the film by the general public. It certainly
is a revealing story that should be told, if for no other reason than to remind us
that our government is not always on the right track. (In view of recent stories
about its cover-ups, suspicions about its statements remain.) The cast as a whole,
with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia,
and Oliver Platt, are very impressive in their work here.
Cudos should go to Michael Cuesta, the director, and Sean Bobbitt, Cinematographer,
for making the film, which is based on the book, so visually and emotionally engaging.