Film Review – Kill the Messenger
Kill the Messenger
“…some stories are too true to tell.”
Kill the Messenger is based on a tumultuous yet exciting period in newspaper journalist Gary Webb’s life. The film is based on true events and on two books, Dark Alliance by Gary Webb and Kill the Messenger by Nick Shou.
The central focus of the film is the war on drugs and its aftermath. The film opens in 1996 with Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) researching a story on what happens to drug dealers’ possessions if they are acquitted. After the story is published in the San Jose Mercury News, he is lauded for his great work. Shortly after, a woman named Coral (Paz Vega) contacts him about a related case. Her boyfriend is on trial and his possessions were also taken away. Webb has already written this story, but his interest in piqued when she mentions a witness on the case is Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez), an confidential informant for the government. Blandon brought cocaine into the country from Nicaragua to sell for the U.S. government to fund a war in Nicaragua. After Webb reads a confidential, sealed grand jury testimony of Blandon, he starts his investigation that would lead to an article called “Dark Alliance” that would make and break his career.
This is another film I went into without ever seeing a trailer. From the beginning, it seems like the focus will be on the riveting story of the government helping to put drugs on the streets for a profit. The film becomes suspenseful as Webb delves further into the subject, traveling to Nicaragua and D.C.. I braced myself for something bad to happen, but the film takes a different turn. Webb’s career becomes promising after he has the courage to put the article out there and very much risks his life to do so. Unfortunately, the tide turns on Webb and he becomes a hack to those who once lauded him. This happens in a matter of days after the article is published. The film refocuses on Webb’s life and the aftermath of his most famous story. It is then that you realize that Kill the Messenger is not about this article, but the man behind it. It is an interesting approach, and not something that is expected with the flow of the film. It does lessen the suspense, which is high until midway through.
There is an amazing cast for Kill the Messenger. However, not all these great actors have much of a part, some being only on screen for a few minutes. Other than Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, and Rosemarie DeWitt are the only ones with significant roles. Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, and others take on the smaller, but important characters.
Jeremy Renner put his all into his portrayal of Gary Webb. This is not an action film, which is a genre Renner has become associated with recently. Playing someone who is not a fictional character has to be tough, especially when those who know him are still alive. Renner gives the impression that he went down a dark hole for his character, losing himself in the process.
Kill the Messenger is not a happy film, but one that will keep you enthralled until Gary Webb’s life starts to derail.
After the film ends, you will realize that it is not about the article, but Webb himself. The controversy over the fact that the C.I.A. helped put drugs on the streets itself is enough for Hollywood to make a great conspiracy thriller out of the material. These filmmakers decided to take a risk and make it about the man behind the story and its aftermath. With this choice, the focus and momentum of the last third of the film is lost to moments that probably could have been cut. It is not the best film of the year, but it comes really close.