Jeremy Renner is on dynamite form in Michael Cuesta’s superb political drama KILL THE MESSENGER.
Gary Webb is a journalist in search of a great story. He finds it and more than he bargained for in KILL THE MESSENGER. Director Michael Cuesta, who’s produced and directed the award-winning Homeland, knows a thing or two about political drama and he delivers a first-rate one here, working with Parkland writer Peter Landesman on this adaptation of Nick Schou’s novel and Webb’s book, Dark Alliance. He also has Jeremy Renner on top form as Webb, delivering a dynamic, emotional performance that will hook you from the first frame to the last.
“I thought my job was to tell the public the truth, the facts; pretty or not, and let the publishing of those facts make a difference in how people look at things, at themselves, and what they stand for…”
Reporter Gary Webb believes in those words and working for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996, uncovers the biggest story of his career and the paper’s history when he follows a tip that leads to the highest corridors of political power. Supported and encouraged to go after this scoop by his young and forthright editor Anna Simons (the great Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and head honcho of the paper Jerry Ceppos (the equally great Oliver Platt), Webb soon finds himself in the middle of a very dangerous game against the CIA when he exposes their arming of the rebels in Nicaragua and the importing of massive amounts of cocaine into California. Finding an ally inside Washington, Fred Weil (another spot-on portrayal from Michael Sheen) is one thing but Webb starts to realise his life is at risk when he goes public with the article.
This is played out in the very best All The President’s Men type fashion, where paranoia is everywhere and shadowy conversations abound at every turn – the latter courtesy of ace cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, Shame and The Place Beyond the Pines). It’s enthralling movie-making. Catching a recent interview on IMDb with Alec Baldwin for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, he spoke of how much he enjoyed working with Jeremy Renner and said,
“… he reminds me of like a Richard Widmark or he reminds me of Bill (William) Holden“.
That seems so fitting for a film that feels almost a throwback to the great, old thrillers of which those superb actors were very much a part. Cuesta and Renner (who’s also a producer of the movie) bring their ‘A’ game to the material and because of their respective work to date, are surely the reason for one of the most high-level supporting casts I’ve seen for a while – Yul Vazquez is an early witness for the cartel goings-on, Andy Garcia the big cheese in Nicaragua, Tim Blake Nelson is a lawyer for Michael C. Williams’ incarcerated drug dealer, Barry Pepper is an upright DA, Gil Bellows a not-to-be-messed with DEA agent, Rosemarie DeWitt is Webb’s wife and just when you think you’ve seen everything, Ray Liotta turns up for one, great scene.
KILL THE MESSENGER shows once again, just as Alan J. Pakula’s journalistic masterpiece did, how far people will go to protect their interests, leaving others like Webb in this case, at the mercy of a smear campaign that threatens to destroy his career, his marriage, and his life. The poignant shot of Renner, beaten down by what those people in power have done to him but not broken, giving that earlier, heartfelt speech is a great testament to how courageous the real Webb was, trying to tell the truth about something, no matter what the consequences.
Seek this movie out on DVD/ Blu-ray, On-Demand or you may even still catch it in the cinema and you’ll see what I mean.