A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Michael Cuesta, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Direction in a Drama Series for Homeland’s Pilot episode, is back with journalism and espionage in a film that feels overtly familiar but an exciting story that seemed unfamiliar. Not a lot of people are aware of the Gary Webb story and I admire the filmmakers going for one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency and not just creating another simple espionage thriller with some nefarious country as the enemy. The story that blows through the news doesn’t even break until halfway through the film and while that is a daring choice to make, the movie never truly ends on a daring note itself and become a more nuanced film.
The plot kicks off with a drug trafficker’s girlfriend approaching Webb and providing documentation that would theoretically prove that Washington, D.C. and cocaine smugglers have some sort of connection. It’s not the most illogical or conspiratorial thing to have been said about the Central Intelligence Agency and for any investigative journalist, it makes sense to pursue it. But that would happen only with a decent amount of confirmation or an extreme confidence in the source. Neither of which is apparent in this scene. Webb, channeling his journalistic tendencies, grabs the lead and eventually leads up to Nicaragua.
The plot points are put together well but they never come together into a cohesive narrative that a film demands. The most contentious point within that draw is that Webb is bland. Outside of an informative angle, when the media does eventually tear him apart and his incredible amount of evidence he gathered from investigative journalism gets overshadowed by a vapid sex scandal, we have to care about Webb. It is obvious throughout historical precedent that the plausibility of the CIA’s implicit involvement in this scandal is logical and the film is certainly taking the organization and placing it firmly within the antagonist’s role. That’s fine, but then Webb has to be given intricate layers beyond “he wants to tell the truth.” For a political film, keeping it that black and white at times simply doesn’t cut the trick to greatness. In all fairness, they do try and provide those undercurrents through his relationship with his wife, expertly played by Rosemary DeWitt. But it becomes fairly obvious that the film isn’t too interested in exploring that nearly as much as it its main storyline.
Jeremy Renner gives a great performance and I love the sheer variety of roles that he’s put himself through. He’s capable of a lot more than just playing stoic and Hawkeye. It’s just an an issue that the film as a whole doesn’t completely complement Renner’s performance. Cuesta as the director is really good and if his previous project with Homeland is the most familiar to you, he makes the jump to the big screen quite well. His biggest asset that should garner him a lot of film projects hopefully is his remarkable ability to create tension in the simplest of scenes. Kill the Messenger isn’t a great film, but it’s a really good one that tells a remarkably vital story that perhaps couldn’t have come at a better time when the War on Drugs is raging at full force.
Title: Kill the Messenger
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Cuesta
Produced by: Jeremy Renner, Naomi Despres, Pamela Abdy, Scott Stuber
Written by: Peter Landesman
Based On: Kill the Messenger by Gary Webb and Nick Schou
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Richard Schiff, Michael K. Williams
Music: Nathan Johnson
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Edited by: Brian A. Katesr
Production Company: Bluegrass Films, The Combine
Distributor: Focus Features
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Dates: October 10, 2014
Image Courtesy: The Wrap