Kill the Messenger is a sobering film as well as an informative one and it allows Jeremy Renner to shine in a way that leaves Marvel and his Bourne films behind. The 43 year-old actor is a jack of all trades in that he is adroit in most genres. Whether the roles are in horror, 28 Weeks Later or action, The Avengers or action comedy Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters the actor submits for the audience an innate believability. Viewers feel he believes so they do also, no matter how ludicrous the film.
Renner’s latest offering, however, is anything but ludicrous. Playing investigative journalist Gary Webb, the actor brings a ragged likeability to this less than perfect truth seeker who works for the San Jose Mercury News. This flawed family man threw caution aside when chasing his stories. That he was fearless is shown in the movie later it was alleged that he was not just brave, but reckless. The charges were levied by the CIA whom he found to be complicit in running and selling crack cocaine in the U.S. in order to fund Nicaraguan rebels.
In the film, Webb, who died in 2004 as the result of two .38 calibre slugs being shot into his head which was ruled a suicide at the time, stumbled onto the CIA crack cocaine trail while investigating the government for seizing property from alleged drug dealers rather than waiting for a conviction. While talking to accused dealer Randy Quail (Robert Patrick) the police arrive and take everyone to jail, including Renner. It is after his arrest that he meets Coral Baca, played with an exquisite sexiness by Paz Vega, who leads him to the CIA story.
Kill the Messenger then follows Webb’s introduction into the world of governmental witnesses, the contras and crack cocaine being sold in unbelievable amounts. Jeremy Renner as Webb leaves Marvel behind when he takes this driven character onto his journey of discovery that initially garners him praise and awards from his peers. Later things change when the CIA decides to go on the offensive and attack the reporter’s integrity and sources. The government agency also puts pressure on those who spoke to Webb before and through threats and intimidation close those avenues of information.
The coup de grace is when the spy agency recruits the major newspapers to launch a smear campaign against Webb and his damaging articles, which were titled Dark Alliance and it is this that helps to kill his career. This film is spot on in the way it shows the adrenaline rush that accompanies investigative journalism and the peril that the reporters put themselves in to get the facts. At one point Webb and a source’s banker are forced to their knees by armed men who threaten to kill them.
Webb relates in the film that he has received death threats, and not just because of his Dark Alliance article, he explains that this type of thing is all part and parcel of the investigative path of journalism. Kill the Messenger also shows the fear that surrounds the journalist and his friends and family when they find something that can change the world and their lives.
Renner as Webb should be in line for a gong with his performance. His portrayal of the reporter whose life was ruined by the CIA and their meticulous orchestration of a damning smear campaign is worthy of a best actor award. Other “name” performers in the film were used sparingly. Robert Patrick, Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia were all used in a various range of cameos.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead appeared to have been “made down” as her makeup left her with harsh brackets around her mouth and with a rather plump face making her look older than her 29 years. Oliver Platt was left to look either worried, ecstatic or shifty in turns and Barry Pepper was typecast as another unpleasant piece of work in another small cameo. Welsh actor Michael Sheen and Yul Vazquez, who played the American president in Lifetime’s The Lottery, rounded out the film’s quota of cameos needed to fill out the cast.
Non-journalistic viewers will get behind Webb and feel the man’s frustration and rage at the machine that has turned against him, and helped to kill his career and hurt his family. Kill the Messenger allows Jeremy Renner to leave Marvel behind with his powerful and poignant portrayal of a man wronged by the system and his colleagues. IMDb classifies Kill the Messenger as being in the Biography, Crime and Drama genres but it leaves out the most obvious, Tragedy. For those in the business of tracking down and writing the truth, like Gary Webb, this film will electrify as much as it disturbs. The film opens on October 10 in cinemas across the U.S.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theatre 18