“Some stories are just too true to tell”
It’s a loaded quote, but for the most part, Kill The Messenger gets the sentiment, right.The film’s docu-drama “realer than real life” style helps Michael Cuesta’s work function as a solid piece of entertainment, but this historically minded spy thriller still can’t quite cover up that we’ve seen this story before.
Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) works at a mid-level southern California newspaper, but he stumbles onto a story that will change everything for him. A lead on a story about a low level drug leads him to the shady underbelly of the origins of the crack epidemic on the nation’s streets and the men who started it all. He uncovers evidence that the CIA was aware of major dealers smuggling cocaine into the States and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua. Emboldened by what he’s uncovering and despite warnings from drug kingpins and CIA operatives to stop his investigation, Webb keeps digging and uncovers a conspiracy so intricate and deep there would be no way to prepare him for the consequences.
The quality shows via the relatively untold material and the performances, but it still plays very much like an overlong TV show. There aren’t any risks being taken, but there’s an efficiency designed to get the story across in a timely fashion.
It’s not surprising, then, that Cuesta’s background comes mostly from working in TV. Working from both books by Gary Webb (Dark Alliance) and Nick Shou (Kill The Messenger), the script from Peter Landesman puts facts and events ahead of the characters, but it works since one gets the idea that Webb’s life wasn’t very exciting prior to these events. It’s a film where the events are more important than the man, and while Cuesta doesn’t necessarily develop the supporting players around Webb, the casting gives Renner plenty to work with.
Renner, carrying a movie on his own for the first time since The Hurt Locker, leads with a great deal of ease. He has a natural leading man charm and swagger that works well for a cavalier journalist looking out for his career. When the charm turns to emotional torture and anguish, Renner makes Webb into a broken soul unable to let go of this story despite all any and all warnings. It’s a solid performance that proves he can provide an anchor for a solid ensemble piece.
The supporting cast is simply littered with high quality supporting players like Rosemarie Dewitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Kenneth Williams, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta to just name a few, but no one steals focus at any time. The film comes so focused on Webb that everyone else is just there for show.
Kill The Messenger might be memorable for its performances and bringing Webb’s struggles to light for the first time, but it’s a missed opportunity to tell a larger, more ambitious story.