Friday, October 10, 2014

Kill the Messenger

Based on accounts written by Nick Schou and Gary Webb, Kill the Messenger offers a rather one-sided look at San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb's (Jeremy Renner) investigation and publishing of a story concerning the CIA supporting the cocaine smuggling of Nicaraguan Contra Rebels and the sale of those drugs inside the United States.

After a brief set-up introducing Webb's family and co-workers, the movie follows his journey uncovering the biggest story of his career, the initial success garnered by its publication, and his quick fall from grace as the media at large began to poke holes in the story (which the script suggests were at the behest of the CIA and the United States Government).

When Kill the Messenger is focused on the story itself it works well. When the focus shifts to Webb's decline, making him, rather than his work, the story (going against the overall message of the movie), it starts to falter down dark conspiracies and paranoia. Unwilling to see the gloom to its inevitable conclusion the script by Peter Landesman simply stops offering an ultimately unsatisfying ending.

The film has two main strengths: the discovery and uncovering of the facts tied to the article which would make (and later break) Webb's career and Renner's performance. With the first ending halfway through, the film only has the later to sell the remainder of the movie. Renner is capable in the role and handles the complex emotions of the character well, but eventually it begins to feel more like an acting exercise and the martyrization of Webb rather than well-crafted storytelling.

The supporting cast is solid if not memorable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is well-used as Webb's editor and eventually last remaining supporter within journalism. Michael Sheen is sadly underutilized as the voice of reason who substantiates enough of the story to drive Webb's investigation but also warns the reporter against the consequences of what he is pursuing. Paz Vega works as the token over-sexualized vixen who drops the story in his lap and Rosemarie DeWitt does what she can with her limited screentime as Webb's wife (although she is always framed solely by her relationship with Webb and their children).

Those curious about the events themselves are going to get less than they would from the man's own Wikipedia page. Although the events ring true that Webb was unfairly attacked for the success of the story, the script's unwillingness to allow the character to accept any blame in forcing a story through without more credible sources is never discussed in any real way that isn't presented as unfair to the character. Kill the Messenger isn't a bad film per se but it is an increasingly disappointing one that ignores its own message (focus on the story not the reporter) to offer an incomplete character study of a man whose life is slowly destroyed for following a story he knows to be true.

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