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New Release Review - Kill the Messenger

The story of journalist Gary Webb, who controversially implied the CIA had colluded with Nicaraguan rebels in importing cocaine to the US.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Cuesta

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Robert Patrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paz Vega



There's a scene in Kill the Messenger in which its journalist hero takes a secret meeting with a Washington official in front of the city's Capitol building, ending with the line "This meeting never happened!" Michael Cuesta's film is more than happy to deliver on the established clich├ęs of the conspiracy thriller genre; we also get a scene in an underground car park and a series of clandestine visits from barely glimpsed strangers. The spirit of Pakula and Pollack is present in a movie that comes dangerously close to parodying the template those directors moulded in movies like All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, but manages to stay just on the right side of homage.
Based on two books - Kill the Messenger by Nick Schou and Gary Webb's autobiographical account Dark Alliance - Kill the Messenger details the story of Webb (Renner), an investigative journalist working for the regional California daily The San Jose Mercury, who stumbled across a conspiracy linking the CIA to Nicaraguan rebels who also happened to have a lucrative line in smuggling cocaine into the US. Publishing his findings, Webb finds himself quickly becoming a pariah in the newspaper world as the CIA seems to initiate a campaign to discredit his work.
Given the ongoing dispute over the truth behind Webb's writings, Cuesta's film nails its flag to the journalist's mast, unafraid to portray real life institutions and figures as villains in the story. The LA Times and Washington Post don't come out of this looking too good, with the film positing both publications as mouthpieces for the CIA. Whether Webb's stories are genuine or not, it certainly makes for a cracking thriller, and had America not been (conveniently?) distracted at the time by the Monica Lewinsky non-scandal, we'd likely have had a screen adaptation long before now.
Renner has struggled to find a footing in Hollywood, with his previous leading man turn, The Bourne Legacy, giving little indication of the potential glimpsed in supporting turns in The Town and The Assassination of Jesse James. You have to go back to 2008's The Hurt Locker to find a successful vehicle for Renner, but in Kill the Messenger he delivers a career best performance, one that, with its '70s stylings, suggests he may unfortunately be an actor better suited to a previous movie era, one which valued an expressive face over a conventionally attractive one. Add an impressively assembled supporting cast packed with 'that guy' faces and Kill the Messenger is elevated beyond the limitations of its unsubstantiated plot. The movie struggles to find an ending, but as with journalism, this one's all about the investigation, and fans of conspiracy thrillers will find this sufficiently entertaining.




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