George Huertas ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) learns in Kill the Messenger (which is based on true events), there’s more than one way to be the victim of an assassination. Working for a relatively small newspaper publication, The San Jose Mercury News, Webb is nevertheless able to discover a major, far-reaching conspiracy involving a collaboration between the CIA and drug runners. In exchange for funds to help the Contra rebels, the CIA would turn a blind-eye to drug lords running cocaine and other like substances into the United States. After uncovering the conspiracy, Webb found himself crucified in the media by rival newspapers and government employees alike. Eventually, the smear campaign proved too much for Webb to handle, and he committed suicide.
In the hands of a filmmaker such as Oliver Stone, Kill the Messenger could have easily transformed into a preachy parable on the nature of truth in the media. Instead, thanks to Michael Cuesta’s tight direction and Renner’s dedicated performance, the film instead becomes a sobering look at how there are few things uglier than the truth. That is, except for the people who deny it. Webb’s opponents are not just the CIA honchos he attempts to expose. They are also his rivals at larger metropolitan publications like The Washington Post. The moment that they smell blood in the water in the form of Webb’s earth-shattering story, they seek to tear the story apart. Witnesses are questioned who later recant their stories, questions are raised about Webb’s supposed credibility, and Webb’s story becomes distorted to the point of being unsalvageable. In a small but impactful role, Michael Sheen’s Fred Weil notes to Renner, when attempting to discredit a report, you merely draw the spotlight to the one who reported it in the first place. “You become the story,” he says with saddened resignation.
Kill the Messenger is a compelling, sterling work, featuring a first-rate cast and solid direction. While the film does not offer much in the way of revolutionary filmmaking, it does offer an excellently executed, competent thriller. While Renner does most of the heavy lifting as Webb, portraying a man who is alternately prideful and arrogant and weak and depressed, he is more than ably assisted by his supporting cast. In particular, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosemarie DeWitt perform admirably as Webb’s editor and wife, respectively.
Kill the Messenger is a powerful, suspenseful work of filmmaking that depicts the struggle of integrity against the forces of the powerful and how sometimes, integrity cannot win out.
Overall Grade: A-