Director: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie De Witt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
UK Release Date: 6th March 2015
The conspiracy that lies at the heart of Kill The Messenger could easily be written off as a farfetched impossibility. Wait, so you’re telling me that the CIA protected and facilitated drug smuggling into the USA on an industrial scale throughout the 1980s? It sounds like something you’d read on a poorly written blog, alongside articles about how the world is run by a group of lizard-people in disguise. But unlike chemtrails or the Illuminati, this theory was essentially confirmed by the US Government in 1998, and the investigative journalism that first uncovered the deep web of deceptive corruption forms the compelling focal point for Michael Cuesta’s crime drama.
Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is a reporter for the middleweight San Jose Mercury News, where his speciality is exposing the controversies and inefficiencies of America’s “War on Drugs”. After receiving a hot tip from the wife of an incarcerated drug runner, Webb is thrust into a maze of LA crack kingpins, Nicaraguan jail yards and Washington officials at the highest levels of power. As he digs deeper, he begins to unravel a conspiracy that could make him a target for shadowy groups that would rather see the truth kept secret.
Michael Cuesta chooses to split the story between Gary Webb’s investigation in the first half, with the film’s second half detailing the messy aftermath of his findings. The journalist’s family life is interwoven throughout and it is this overarching subplot that adds a slight sense of confusion to the narrative. While Kill The Messenger is fairly well paced throughout, the family scenes are where some trimming could have been beneficial – although the 112 minute run-time does not feel overly excessive in a film centred around an unfolding, true-to-life conspiracy case.
Jeremy Renner’s tremendously strong performance is a prominent highlight, continuing to prove his worth as a leading man in addition to his production role on this project. Although, aside from Renner’s fine acting work, Webb’s characterisation suffers from some degree of glorification, in turn leading to a lack of dimensionality that can obscure his motivations. Rosemarie DeWitt is perfectly functional as Gary’s wife, although she isn’t given much to do outside of general on-screen spousal duties. Similarly, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia and Michael K Williams all perform with an expected solidity but their characters remain relatively undeveloped. Oliver Platt delivers a stand-out performance as Webb’s initially supportive, yet increasingly skeptical boss, alongside an equally adept Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the paper’s editor. Conversely, Ray Liotta appears for a tonally inconsistent cameo that’s both out of place and poorly executed.
Kill The Messenger stands as a methodical and generally well-grounded piece. There are enough suspenseful elements thrown in to keep things twisting and interesting, although not quite enough to push the film into full “thriller” mode. Nonetheless, Cuesta’s film is easy on the eye and engaging for the brain, neatly edited with slick montages of journalistic explorations and bookended by real life footage of Presidential speeches and period news pieces. It’s especially impressive considering its $5 million dollar budget, mere pocket change to most Hollywood productions. Kill The Messenger may not be perfect but it’s thought-provoking and impactful in its own right, showcasing an important story that deserves to be known amongst a wider audience.
★ ★ ★ ½
3.5 out of 5 stars
Written by James Excell