Kill the Messenger (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Michael Cuesta, and starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paz Vega, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Barry Pepper, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Richard Schiff, Michael K. Williams, and Michael Sheen.
Kill the Messenger shows the downside of investigative journalism after chasing a story that can have drastic consequences. Academy Award nominated actor Jeremy Renner does his role rather well playing real-life journalist Gary Webb in the dramatic thriller directed by Michael Cuesta.
Gary Webb was a renowned investigative journalist working for the San Jose Mercury News back in the mid-1990s. Gary gets the story of a lifetime when the girlfriend of a drug dealer (Paz Vega) gives him a confidential document from the government proving that former drug trafficker Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez) was working with the DEA to take down kingpin Ricky Ross (Michael K. Williams). With this huge story in his hands, Gary gets permission from his editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and publisher, Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) to gather more information on the story. The narrative has him travel from the outskirts of South America and the LA streets to the capital of Washington, D.C. Gary finds out that the drug traffickers are being funded by the US government to help in their war. What Gary’s expose does next to uncover the truth affects his work life as well as his family.
Chasing a huge story can have a heavy toll, which Gary faces after his three-part piece “Dark Alliance” gets published. His story gains lots of media attention but at the same time he gets enemies from both the CIA and newspapers across the country. The real danger comes close to home after some government spooks spy on Gary causing him to call the authorities. He gets defamed by other papers saying that his story doesn’t have reliable sources. He gets downgraded from his job to lay low, but it doesn’t stop him from getting to the bottom of the story. His actions take a toll on his work life and family as he leaves his job and starts losing his family.
Jeremy Renner seems to have done his research in learning about Gary’s life story before and after publishing his big story. After his roles in The Hurt Locker and American Hustle, Jeremy may have found another worthy performance in this film. Jeremy plays Gary as a brash, hot-tempered, and explosive guy who just wants to tell a story worth telling. We see that he is also not afraid to stand by his work, even if he has to go against his editors’ wishes.
Most of Cuesta’s cast of well-known actors is given one-scene roles that basically shape up the story of this journalist’s quest for the truth. The most memorable of the one-scene stealers would go to Andy Garcia as the imprisoned Nicaraguan drug lord Norwin Meneses who is living the high life despite being in a cell. Rosemarie DeWitt plays a convincing supportive wife who stands by Gary no matter the danger he faces in his line of work as he does whatever he can to protect his family.
Audiences can see that Gary tries to balance work and family but his work seems to come first as he wants to share the truth whether they pose a danger to himself or not. We don’t get to dig deeper into the flaws of his article, but the film shows sympathy to the journalist who committed suicide in 2004 years after being discredited as a journalist.
Michael Cuesta draws the film from both source materials of Gary’s three-part article “Dark Alliance” and Nick Schou’s book “Kill the Messenger”. Known for his directing duties on TV shows Homeland, Blue Bloods, and Dexter, Cuesta focuses a lot on Gary Webb’s struggles as a journalist as he cracks down on the government conspiracy as well as his family life. The way the film plays out is shown as a conspiracy thriller as well as a documentary with clips shown of past US presidents talking about the war on drugs. The film lacked the criticisms that Gary faced as a reporter and how he dealt with the fallout of leaving the paper. The film plays out like a complex thriller with all these different pieces that doesn’t fit all too well.
To bring this together, Kill the Messenger shows us what uncovering a huge story was like before the era of TMZ and WikiLeaks. What the film displays is a flawed man who risks it all for what could’ve been the biggest story in his career. Michael Cuesta’s fourth film as director fell short on story but brought in the emotional depth of Gary’s once promising career and the toll it brought on him both professionally and personally.
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