On the Silver Screen – Kill The Messenger
Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger tells the story of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) as he works to expose the involvement of the CIA in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing Cocaine into California.
The real life events of this film and the political machinations surrounding them are very complex but this film smartly keeps the focus firmly on Gary Webb who remains at the center of this tale throughout. Jeremy Renner gives a fantastic performance as the deeply complex Webb who is constantly at war with standing up for what he believes in and ensuring that his family are well cared for.
In essence the film is a character study with the events serving as the backdrop. Early in the film we find out that Webb isn’t perfect as he is on probation with his wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) after an affair some years previously and it’s interesting to see the hints of mistrust that still exist in their relationship. DeWitt does a good job of portraying wanting to believe him but not quite being able to in some cases. We also see how fiercely determined he is to uncover the truth as well as his intelligence allowing him to see things that others don’t.
I liked how the film was structured. The first half of the film plays out as an investigation with the story being uncovered bit by bit culminating in the rise of his journalistic reputation. After that the film focuses on his transision to a profoundly broken man. He finds himself on the wrong end of the CIA’s underhanded betrayal much like the communities destroyed by the drugs brought into the country and he finds himself losing everything. As the wall of text says at the end he never manages to earn a living as a journalist again.
Both aspects of the film are done well with the investigation remaining compelling at all points with plenty of intrigue to keep the narrative going along at a decent clip. Watching Webb’s life deteriorate after writing his story is also done really well and manages to provoke a lot of sympathy in its execution. Renner does a great job of portraying the high energy enthusiasm that Webb has for the story as well. He really creates a complex character in his performance here and is constantly worth watching.
I did sometimes feel that the film had a tendency to shy away from the massive story going on in the background in favour of how Webb’s personal life was affected. It was an interesting time politically and would have been good to see a bit more of that explored in the story. I think there was definitely room for an exploration of Webb as well as the depths of corruption within the CIA being shown in more detail. There’s lots going on that the film fails to take advantage of.
The film does have to be commended for bringing this story to light as it’s something that has been long forgotten. From what I know of the events of that time the media largely ignored them after Webb had been discredited due to Bill Clinton’s affair coming to light at the same time. The film only deals with this in a text epilogue but it seems all too coincidental. As I said above if the film had dealt with that stuff more then it would have been something truly memorable.
An interesting and compelling character study with a first rate performance from lead Jeremy Renner.
The political backdrop that this film deals with as well as the CIA corruption are all very complex issues that could bog a film down with detail but the film smartly keeps the focus on Gary Webb and his desire to get to the truth of the situation.
Everything is kept focused on Webb from the work he does to sniff out this story as well as his home life with his family. We see that Webb is imperfect as references are made to a past affair that he is still on probation for with hints of mistrust still lingering from his wife.
Half of the film plays out like a mystery with Webb chasing source after source to uncover the truth and the half shows how his life is torn apart by a very unhappy CIA who set out to completely discredit him. Renner perfectly plays both aspects of the film with a curious energy in the first half contrasting with hurt and regret in the second.
I would have liked the film to cover the issues in a little more detail rather than focus entirely on Webb. I thought the story was an interesting one and really wanted to find out more about the corruption and how Webb personally related to it. With a little more of that this film could have been truly exceptional.