Based on the true story of investigative journalist Gary Webb and his Dark Alliance series, Kill The Messenger is an insightful, thought provoking film that highlights the potential dangers ‘real’ journalism can uncover. Having never heard of Gary Webb or his story prior to this movie, it was shocking to learn not only the discoveries he made, but also the depths at which it was covered up by the American government.
Set in the mid-nineties, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, who broke the story of the role the C.I.A. played in importing cocaine into the U.S., which was then sold throughout the ghetto across America, creating a ‘crack’ epidemic. This money was then used to support the rebel army in Nicaragua with weapons during this time. After receiving critical acclaim for his piece, the spotlight is then put on Webb and his life is picked apart by rival newspapers, fellow journalists and government officials. This leaves Webb alone in his pursuit of the truth, as he is quickly ostracized by his editor Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt). With no job and no family, Webb becomes obsessed with the cover up, sending him into a deep paranoia that plagues him for the rest of his life.
This is a movie set on slow burn, where the tension lasts for so long and is just simmering under the surface that although you’re rooting for the good guy, you also can’t wait for it to boil over just to see what happens. Director Michael Cuesta does a superb job of utilizing his cast in what are primarily one scene roles. Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Twelve), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) are all memorable players in the huge web of lies and deceit the C.I.A. has created. Although these pop-up cameos are great, this is entirely Renners’ vehicle, and here he plays Webb with such an everyman-flaws-and-all perfection that marks his best performance to date. Renner has been an underrated yet solid actor for some time now, and Kill The Messenger confirms that he can lead a film with dramatic flair and finesse.
Any movie that is based on a true story always seems to be scrutinized more than your average work of fiction. Here Kill The Messenger adds raw depth and emotion to an already tense premise, by using real footage from the time that leaves no room to question the severity of this story. Scenes of ghetto America, with its gangs and homelessness, pierce you right in the heart especially knowing this is happening on the other side of the world, a rampant addiction created in their own backyard for what seems to be the greatest weakness of all: greed. I do wonder though how this film was ever made, let alone released, given the picture it paints of many American government agencies and the conspiracies that have been seemingly covered up for decades.
Part political thriller, part dramatic biopic, Kill The Messenger is a stylish film that doesn’t apologize for its representation of what happened and the people involved. It seems unfair that Webb, whose job as an investigative journalist is to ‘investigate’, ended his life and career in such tragic circumstances. This film not only serves as an unforgiving testimonial to his pursuit of the truth, but is also an impressive entry into what is quickly becoming a favourite genre of the film industry.
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