List Film

Kill the Messenger (3 stars)

Jeremy Renner heads up Michael Cuesta's informative take on a true story

Kill the Messenger

'Some stories are just too true to tell,' warns federal prosecutor Fred Weil (Michael Sheen) in director Michael Cuesta's crime drama, which recounts the real-life experiences of reporter Gary Webb. Played with considerable spark by Jeremy Renner, we watch Webb uncover a series of inconvenient truths relating to CIA activities in South America; exposing these issues triggers a cover-up that has a destructive effect on Webb’s life.

Writing for the San Jose Mercury News, and taxing the patience of his editor Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt), Webb first tangles with the authorities when writing about the Nicaraguan Contra affair, suggesting CIA complicity with the rapid influx of crack cocaine into LA in the early 90s. Webb goes against the prevailing journalistic apathy by publishing his findings, but becomes the victim of a government smear campaign, with the authorities keen to discredit him and his work. Pressures mount at home, where he fears for the safety of his wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their children. In over his head, Webb finds out the hard way that telling the truth sometimes makes far more enemies than it does friends.

Cuesta's choice of title – taken from Nick Schou's separate book about Webb – nails the point of the story too easily; rather than focusing attention on government corruption, Webb only managed to turn attention towards himself. Sporting a thick moustache and aviator shades, Renner imbues Webb with the requisite manic energy, and the experienced supporting cast – which also includes Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta – add to the grimy sense of duplicity.

The problem with Cuesta's film is that, like Webb, it struggles to disengage from the material involved. Part political exposé, part character study, Kill the Messenger feels too much like a polemic, and too little like a human drama, failing to entertain as well as it informs.

General release from Fri 6 Mar.

Kill the Messenger | Official Trailer

Kill the Messenger

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 112 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michael Cuesta
  • Cast: Jeremy Renner, Robert Patrick, Jena Sims
  • UK release: 6 March 2015

Based on the true story of Gary Webb (Renner), a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, who uncovered dirty CIA activities in South America and who became the victim of a smear campaign as a result. Renner has considerable spark but overall it's excessively polemical, being more informative than entertaining.


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