Esteban Gonzalez’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Some stories are just too true to tell.”
Ten years after their initial collaboration together in 12 and Holding, director Michael Cuesta and Jeremy Renner team up for this political thriller based on the true events surrounding the life of journalist Gary Webb and the investigation that led him to uncover a conspiracy between the CIA and some Nicaraguan drug dealers with the specific purpose of arming the Contra rebels fighting the war against drugs in that country. It’s a shame the film didn’t do well at the box office because Jeremy Renner gives his best performance since The Hurt Locker. He does a convincing job portraying this journalist who during the first half of the film is doing some great investigative journalistic work and in the later half is trying to protect his family and convince people that he is telling a true story when he becomes the target of a smear campaign.
Many people have claimed that the theme of the film is outdated considering the events took place during the early 90’s, but I have to disagree. With everything that has happened in the last couple of years with the Snowden whistleblowing incident I think we can learn a few things about government conspiracies and journalistic unbiased reporting. Having watched the Academy Award winning documentary CitizenFour recently, I have to admit the way he came out in public with the information was rather brilliant. There was no way he could leak this story to a journalist in the USA because what happened to Gary Webb would probably happen to him. It seems that the American government has a history of washing away their guilt by pointing the finger at someone else and smearing their image. That is what happened with Webb when all of a sudden the focus stopped being the story he reported and everything started centering on who he was and his past. That is why in the documentary Snowden is always concerned with getting the story out in the public first before coming out because he knew that as soon as his name was out there, the story would shift its focus on him. It is something that continues to repeat itself in history so forgive me if my faith in good journalistic reporting is a bit shaky. They simply shift the attention of the story and instead of digging into it and uncovering conspiracies they end up smearing the name of the person who is trying to expose the crimes of our country because it is much easier and convenient to do so.
The film works best during the first hour when the actual conspiracy is being investigated by Renner’s character. The journalistic investigation was thrilling and gripping as Webb began following each lead and ultimately unraveling a dangerous conspiracy. During this first hour there are a number of strong performances as we get cameos from Andy Garcia and Michael Sheen. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also delivers a solid performance as Webb’s editor while Oliver Platt convincingly portrays Webb’s boss. In the second hour the film does lose some of its grip when it begins to shift the focus of the journalistic story to the smearing campaign and some family issues that ensue. Rosemarie Witt however delivers a strong performance as Webb’s wife. Despite some issues with the pacing during the second half of the film, the brilliant cast makes up for it and keeps un engaged. Kill the Messenger is a solid entry into the investigative journalism genre. I’m glad the story got told, but it’s unfortunate that not many people went to see it.