Movie Review: Kill The Messenger (Don’t Believe The Truth Edition)

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Jeremy Renner in Kill The Messenger

What’s it about

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) uncovers a conspiracy between the CIA and Nicaraguan drug cartels, allowing the sale of cocaine in the States in order to help fund a war by the Contra Rebels against the Nicaraguan government. He decides to release the information in a series of articles called Dark Alliance for the San Jose Mercury News. This doesn’t just make him a giant target for the CIA but also rival newspapers, (The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post are depicted in the movie) who are angry at being out-scooped by a smaller paper, run campaigns to discredit his work.

The Awesome

A Fascinating Story: The fact that this was a real story, with massive stakes, gives an almost unmatched fury to the story. The message of bringing the truth to light no matter what is still timely and important, in light of events in recent years such as the Ed Snowden leaks and Wikileaks. The media reaction then is still relevant today, as sensationalism has slowly taken over from credible, solid journalism work.

Real/Reel: Kill The Messenger uses real news clips from ’96 to supplement the quality acting on show. Again, this further recreates the intensity of the situation then, as the outrage from various communities (including the African American community in South Central, Los Angeles, an area hit hard by the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s) is accurately depicted.

The Jeremy Renner Show: Pulling double duty as both producer and leading man, Jeremy Renner (with an odd looking ‘stache) fully embodies the spirit of Webb. Through him, we get a sense of the man’s “truth at all cost” beliefs, his slightly naive psyche as well as the eventual desperation and paranoia that is set upon him through this ordeal.

Not So Sure About That…

Ah, Cliches…: Director Michael Cuesta falls into the trappings and the cliches of the political thriller once too many… I mean, interviewing a subject against the backdrop of the Capitol Building looks really cool but is pretty unrealistic and may take the viewer out of the movie.

You’re Sure That Happened?: A fair degree of the movie seems to be dedicated to dramatised elements, such as struggles between Webb and his spouse (Rosemarie DeWitt). Perhaps the turmoil really did affect Webb’s family in real life but this attempt at showing the extent of the backlash at Webb doesn’t really fit in well with the rest of the movie’s very real tone.

Tunnel Vision: The film focuses on Webb’s life, almost too much. Perhaps, it would have been more interesting to explore the role of media sensationalism in the role of this issue or even Webb’s later life as hint in the film’s ending.

Verdict: 4/5

Kill The Messenger is a solidly made political thriller about a crusading journalist. Fuelled by a strong performance from Jeremy Renner, the movie may not be as well-rounded as we would like it to be but it accomplishes what it needs in a manner that’s a very fitting of its lead character.

Words from Renner's character, Gary Webb
Badass words from Renner’s character, Gary Webb


To watch or not to watch…

Definitely Watch If…

Avoid This If…

  • You enjoy political thrillers.
  • You can’t stand cliches.
  • You can appreciate a conspiracy or two.
  • You enjoy conspiracies way too much and don’t believe in anything, even if it’s a movie about a conspiracy.
  • You’re a journalist.
  • You’re a journalist, because the world of journalism is in a sad, sad state right now.