Kill the Messenger movie poster
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Kill the Messenger
Kill the Messenger movie poster

Kill the Messenger Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Kill the Messenger’s true-life story of Gary Webb resonated with me in a big way. After all, we have a lot in common. Webb was an aggressive journalist who unveiled the disturbing truth about the U.S. government’s role in importing illegal drugs into the country. I’m an aggressively lazy online movie critic who tells the truth about important movies. Webb’s life was forever tarnished by a vengeful government. I receive hate comments from Internet trolls.

We are practically the same person.

Jeremy Renner plays Webb, who in the movie is portrayed as a passionate warrior for the truth. Reality is a bit murkier, according to the random online articles I’ve read; Webb was apparently a good journalist, but the do-no-evil hero portrayed in Kill the Messenger? No.

But that’s not really a problem. Nearly every movie casts its protagonist in a favorable light, glossing over the less-good stuff.

What is a problem is that Kill the Messenger never fully hits its stride, or when it does, it stumbles shortly thereafter. The drama, one I was really looking forward to heading into the fall, races at full speed for quite a while, especially when Webb is traveling around the globe unearthing the bombs he would later drop in the three-piece investigative piece “Dark Alliances.”Kill the Messenger feels like a good old piece of gloss-free filmmaking for a while. Maybe not All the President’s Men, but vintage filmmaking.

But once the smear campaign begins, Kill the Messenger zooms in on Gary Webb himself. And as good as Jeremy Renner is in the movie, shifting the focus from the “Dark Alliances” to the man who wrote it is a bad decision. Of course, what happens to Webb—to his reputation, his career, and his life—is troubling and worthy of depiction. But what truly happens to Webb, the stuff that will really hit you like a bag of bricks, is told through a few brief sentences at the end.

Essentially, director Michael Cuesta has made a movie about Gary Webb and the emotional toll inflicted upon him, without actually showing the emotional toll inflicted upon him. Renner, who also produced the film, could have had a meaty role on his hands; instead, he stars in a movie where the most interesting stuff ends halfway through.

Despite all these issues, Kill the Messenger is generally entertaining and features a strong performance by Renner. The supporting cast is good but underused: Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper and Tim Blake Nelson are essentially granted cameos, though Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Oliver Platt are given a bit more to do. Even though it ends prematurely and without proper closure, Kill the Messenger is worth seeing… but an Oscar contender it is not.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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