Dr. Donna Copeland’s






 Few films are correctly labeled as important, not because of cinematic relevance but political and social relevance. Director Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger is better, stronger, and more effecting that anyone probably imagines before sitting down in front of it. Cuesta hasn’t been behind the camera of a film since his 2005 feature 12 and Holding starring a young Renner. Before that he made his debut in the controversial L.I.E. Kill the Messenger is not only his best work to date but Oscar nominated Renner (American Hustle, The Bourne Legacy) gives his best performance since The Hurt Locker. There is never a dull moment in this informative thriller that understands the media’s role of importance in exposing dark truths.

 San Jose Mercury News reporters Gary Webb (Renner) gets into a story that leads to one of the biggest exposes of the decade. Webb has never dealt with a story this large, nor has his small town paper. When Webb’s article titled Dark Alliance is published the entire national and especially the CIA in which he is exposing comes after him and his family. Webb’s article accuses the CIA of using money from drug trafficking to buy weapons and fun a war that otherwise was out of the budget. Webb and his family become targets of his own government, he is demoted to a smaller arm of the newspaper, and furious of the scoop, larger network papers begin to exploit his credibility.

 “Some stories are just too true to tell,” Fred Weil (Sheen) tells Gary Webb when they meet off the record. Kill the Messenger is a Pelican Brief meets Traffic type of thriller, it’s just backed up by a true story and an Oscar worthy performance from Renner. The entire cast is really well assembled, DeWitt who continues to further her onscreen presence, transitioning from a career in television, is also great here. Most of the recognizable names in the cast have one seen, but they are chosen for their ability to make that one scene count in a list of important characters.

 The film starts shifting gears and picking up speed in a high tension court room scene where Gary feeds attorney Alan Fenster (Nelson) questions and info that make everyone very uncomfortable. This sets the tone for the remainder of the film, that uncomfortable idea that this journalist known more than he should feeling. Sharp editing plays a significant part in the success of this film. The film isn’t all conspiracy, suspense and accusation; there is a tear jerking scene with Gary and his 16-year-old son in the garage that is one of the highlights of the film and really scores high marks for young actor Lucas Hedges.

 Final Thought -  Renner gives a tour de force performance.

 Grade B+

By: Dustin Chase  

Boy!  They got the title right for this film!  Gary Webb, the subject of Kill the Messenger, says at one point, “I thought my job was to tell the truth”, and most of us would agree that that should be a high priority for a journalist; but, unfortunately, there is sometimes a heavy price to pay in doing so.  Gary (Jeremy Renner) works for the newspaper in San Jose, California, and is contacted by a Nicaraguan woman with grand jury documents that were mistakenly released.  They contain information about the CIA’s complicity with Central American drug dealers to raise money to support the Contras in Nicaragua who were opposed to the democratically elected Sandanista government (which they regarded as socialist and bordering on communism).  After Congress voted not to allocate money for the Contras, the CIA resorted to getting money from the sale of drugs to pay for the Contras.  The dealers were given free rein to sell drugs in L.A., and the CIA would pass its cut on to the Contras.  According to Webb, this arrangement brought crack cocaine into the state of California.  Gary follows up on the information with diligence, visiting some of the players in Nicaragua and attempting to talk to the CIA in Washington.

 But, indeed, as soon as his story broke, eliciting responses from all over the world, a huge backlash from the CIA and news media soon developed to discount not only the story, but Gary personally.  Obviously, the CIA wanted to cover up what they had done; and the major news networks were disgruntled about upstaged by a small newspaper.  So to discredit the story and cover themselves, they dug into Gary’s past and any mistake he ever made was broadcast—as if that were relevant to the story.  Eerily, two people in particular had warned Gary that this could happen to him (it had previously happened to them), but he believed so passionately in what he was doing, he was undeterred, and finally resorted to writing a book about it to get the story out.  I’m so glad he was able to accomplish that.  Nevertheless, the CIA issued a report in 1998 that denied Webb’s allegations, except for the agency knowing about the drug trafficking.

 This is probably Renner’s best role yet, and may win award nominations for him, depending perhaps on the reception of the film by the general public.  It certainly is a revealing story that should be told, if for no other reason than to remind us that our government is not always on the right track.  (In view of recent stories about its cover-ups, suspicions about its statements remain.)  The cast as a whole, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Oliver Platt, are very impressive in their work here.  

 Cudos should go to Michael Cuesta, the director, and Sean Bobbitt, Cinematographer, for making the film, which is based on the book, so visually and emotionally engaging.  

Grade:  A   

By Donna R. Copeland