Kill the Messenger


Release: Friday, October 10, 2014 (limited)


Written by: Peter Landesman 

Directed by: Michael Cuesta

Stories like this make me feel better about writing about less hardcore things than politics  . . . . like movies. Because even as a much-loathed film critic your work may come home with you, but it’s not likely to ever actually follow you home. (Unless, of course, your name is Armond White.) I don’t want to become Armond White.

Jeremy Renner puts down that fancy bow and arrow of his — at least for the moment, until Tony Stark screws up again — to pick up notepad and digital audio recorder in this grounded, tense drama about American investigative journalist Gary Webb, an ambitious man who ended up exposing one of the most controversial and disturbing sociopolitical developments of the mid-1990s and later would go on to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for the effort.

The American ‘crack epidemic’ of the 1990s, when compared to catastrophically violent and global paranoia-inducing developments such as 9/11 and the ensuing war on terrorism, might now seem something dangerously close to irrelevant; merely an irregularity in the rhythm of the cultural heartbeat. To dismiss as forgettable the moment in which the public became aware of certain facts involving the United States government and the sudden discovery of a massive influx of crack-cocaine on American streets would be to crush one particular journalist’s life work under the rubble of indifference. And in this case indifference might very well be worse than the reception that was awaiting him when he first broke the news.

That, in case you were wondering, was a tidal wave of overwhelming doubt, hissing criticism and public shunning. It would all culminate in Webb’s questionable suicide ten Decembers ago.

In 1996 the San Jose Mercury News, the modest city paper Webb reported for, published his most ambitious work, a three-part, 20,000-word exposé generously detailing the corruption within the CIA as it related to Nicaraguan rebels (or Contras). It asserted the profits made off of the black market distribution to susceptible Los Angelinos (and one can only imagine how far beyond) went to funding, and perhaps even arming and supplying, the rebels. Though, Webb doesn’t quite point the finger directly. His work suggests members within the CIA were aware of the situation, and that President Reagan shielded inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to allow for the transactions to occur. Beyond the ego this publication, now infamously known as The Dark Alliance, is where trouble would begin in earnest for Webb.

As the titular ‘messenger,’ Renner amps up his intensity. Sufficiently a leading man — an oddly amiable one at that — he’s distinctly human but there exists beneath the surface a machine set on overdrive. Clearly something compels this character that surpasses familial duty, a persistence that doesn’t allow a father and husband to sleep well at night. Why can’t he stop digging deep into extremely treacherous affairs? Or perhaps the better question: what, if anything, would motivate him to cease and desist? If nothing else, Kill the Messenger goes to prove the lengths required to secure that most coveted of career affirmations.

Cuesta manages to set the performance against a satisfactorily researched background. We travel to dangerous prisons, hold casual (and not so casual) conversations with incredibly dangerous and idealistic extremists, and we flirt with the opposition as much as we shun our friends. Even if we pass through many security checkpoints with a little too much ease and conveniently skip through certain plot details, the development is sufficient enough to leave minimal questions about the actual investigating part. His supporting cast — Rosemarie Dewitt (who plays Webb’s dutiful wife Sue), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as Webb’s editor Anna Simons), and Oliver Platt (who takes on the role as Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos) — all contribute thoroughly. Unfortunately Ray Liotta and Michael Sheen are wasted in cameos.

Considering the big picture, Renner’s staunch determination conflicted with more than his readers and the general public. When personal relations and friendships become involved, this is where Michael Cuesta’s directorial limitations are exposed as the slump into depression and the subsequent loss of virtually all personal and financial value are hardly unexpected. Not that these things aren’t difficult to experience. This is what really happened (an approximation, anyway). It’s just as incredible to watch how one story, a single idea can consume a person.


3-5Recommendation: Kill the Messenger offers a strong lead performance for an often overlooked and steadily rising talent (original casting choices favored the likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise — yawn). A not-so-subtle indictment of an American society (and of news outlets most damningly) that doubted a single journalist could dig up this much dirt on this many people possessing this much power. For aspiring journalists, this movie might be a must. Not necessarily for the reminding about ethical boundaries and how not to cross them (Webb’s whistleblowing strategy is certainly not a good example) but more so for a clear illustration of the difference between healthy and unhealthy obsession.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “I thought my job was to tell the public the truth, the facts; pretty or not, and let the publishing of those facts make a difference in how people look at things, at themselves, and what they stand for. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits:; 

17 thoughts on “Kill the Messenger

  1. So glad you enjoyed this too. What makes this so watchable is Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of newspaper reporter Gary Webb. He is really good at getting the audience to like him.


    • Jeremy Renner is excellent here. And I couldn’t put that better myself; he is great at getting audiences on his side. Crucial in a story like this. I’m glad I saw this for sure.


    • Not a fan of him as an Avenger, Mark? Pity! That’s a solid role for him!! 🙂

      But I will second the motion that he’s better in things like this. He really truly is. His version of Gary Webb is something to admire and to really, ultimately pity.


  2. I haven’t had a chance to see this. However, I want too. I heard it shows off how great of an actor Renner really is! I felt that American Hustle did a good job as well with that. Glad to see you confirm it.

    I agree with you about the choice. I bet the director didn’t though. With Pitt or Cruise in the lead role, there is no way that this would get a quiet release.


    • Good call on Renner being good in American Hustle. I too thought he was overlooked in favor of American sweethearts like Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams (even though they were admittedly very good too). He’s really intense here, and I appreciate him being able to shine a light on this very interesting life story. It’s one I feel that will be overlooked far too easily, and it really shouldn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked Renner in The Immigrant, I’m really looking forward to this one. His face is very familiar but I’m not sure where else I have seen him. But The Immigrant was a great film


    • Nice! Oh wow, I had completely forgotten about that one, despite me not seeing it. It was at my local indie theater for all of like, 2 weeks I think. :\ But I heard that was great, esp Cotillard.

      Here, Renner is also great. If you’ve seen The Avengers or The Bourne Legacy then you’ve caught him in some higher-profile action-hero roles.


    • There’s some level of depressiveness to it, but I wouldn’t be put off by its somber tone. There’s definitely an importance to the proceedings. I’m glad this has been made, for I would have otherwise never known about this guy. It’s a shame so many still don’t.

      Thanks dude!


  4. This is the first review I’ve seen for this Tom – sounds pretty good and worth a watch. I like Renner, I think he’s had a bit of a raw deal in the Marvel films and sounds like he’s getting a raw deal from the old Bourne franchise too. Looks like this makes better use of his talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I wished there was more of him in The Avengers, but I enjoyed what I did get of him. Not seen any of the Bourne movies, so I can’t comment on that. 🙂

      I would suggest seeking this out any way you can man, he’s really ace here. A very solid political thriller if that sounds like something you would be interested in.


  5. Being an up-and-coming journalist like myself, I felt like this one hit closer to home. Wasn’t a perfect movie, but its intentions were dignified and it also gave Renner a chance to really sell Gary Webb as a person, rather than as an example. Good review Tom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For sure man! Great way to look at it too, it humanized the guy rather than set him up on a pillar or make him look more than he was. A pretty solid story to go along with. I don’t know why it took me nearly 2 months to write the review! haha


  6. Nice review man! I really wanted to see it, but it only screened down here for three or four weeks, it was gone before I had a chance. So now I wait! And it looks worth it, I wanted to see it as soon as I heard about it.

    Your comments regarding the massive political shitstorm that this created are spot on. This movie is good in that it reminds us that, yes, that is how the US government operates. But on the other hand, I liked your line ‘questionable suicide’. Questionable indeed. Hardly a coincidence methinks.

    Nice write up. Now I’m really pissed that I missed out on seeing this! Apparently it bombed at the box office, at least down here, hence the short screen-time. Dunno if that was a wordwide trend, but i hope to see this on BR soon!!

    Nice review mate


    • Cheers man, yeah Kill the Messenger is an unfortunately quiet release. Too bad to hear it bombed down where you are, I don’t think it’s done too badly here in the eastern US.

      I really enjoyed Renner is this, good to see him in for a change.


Comments are closed.