*** out of ****
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) plays a journalist out to uncover links between the CIA and drug dealers in Kill the Messenger, a film based on the work of real-life reporter Gary Webb.
Webb was a San Jose Mercury News journalist who received information indicating that, in the 1980s, the CIA used money from drugs sold in the United States to fund an illegal war against the Contras in Nicaragua. After his initial story received accolades, the government and much of the national media launched a smear campaign against Webb, questioning his journalistic ethics, exposing an extramarital affair from earlier in his life, and turning him into a professional pariah.
Some elements of Webb’s arc plus the film’s focus on how editorial decisions in newspapers can be unduly influenced by outside pressure may remind viewers of Michael Mann’s excellent 1999 film The Insider. Kill the Messenger does not quite reach those heights despite a strong first hour devoted to Webb connecting the dots as he writes the initial story. Even though there’s little action other than conversation, this part of the narrative zips along and never seems too talky.
But as Webb is gradually left hung out to dry, the film loses some momentum and the third act fizzles a bit. Granted, stories based on reality don’t always have the most cinematic endings, but the finale here feels anticlimactic. Title cards at the end reveal some startling information (for those unfamiliar with the story) and it’s hard not to wonder if it would’ve been better for this information to be depicted in the body of the film.
The screenplay was written by Peter Landesman, the writer-director of last year’s Parkland, a film about the JFK assassination. Messenger is about on the same level as Parkland; it’s a solid, thoughtful film, but one that’s not quite good enough to stand out amongst awards season releases.