Hot Take: Believe this report… See this movie. (It does the best it can with a two hour feature length limitation.)
Ever watch a good movie late at night and not be able to keep your eyes open? Despite your best efforts, you doze off a few times and miss a few key scenes which keeps this probably great movie from being great just because you kept falling asleep.
This is the best description of how it felt to watch Kill the Messenger I can give. Throughout this roughly 2 hour “based on a true story” drama, the gaps in the story telling which steamroll the audience through journalist Gary Webb’s investigation and subsequent series of articles identifying the CIA as a catalyst for the crack cocaine boom of the late 1980s are frequent and frustrating in an otherwise compelling film.
The cast, led by Jeremy Renner as reporter Gary Webb, turn in solid performances throughout Kill the Messenger. Renner shines as cocky, relentless reporter turned tortured and tormented target. Rosemarie DeWitt (as Webb’s wife, Sue) also sparkles. The rest — Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael K. Williams, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Paz Vega to name a few — deliver as well.
The miss is in the brevity of it all. Kill the Messenger‘s subject matter feels tailor made for a cable miniseries but settles for a feature length highlight reel. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, to illustrate this, late in the film the audience finds out Webb spent three days in Nicaragua. However, one could imagine this taking place in half a day when thinking back on how director Michael Cuesta presents the trip. The condensed story distances the audience from the characters. The government conspiracy is almost as difficult to buy as the retaliatory character strikes unleashed on Webb. In serving up the meat of the story, essentially it feels like more was left on the bone.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Jeremy Renner
Renner’s face tells the story of Webb better than script.
- The Media Hasn’t Changed
Today, it’s new media vs. old media. Then, it was the small news outlets vs. the larger outlets. The faces have changed, the narrative hasn’t.
- The Supporting Cast
Albeit somewhat typecast, the performances server their purpose. It’s possible, due to it’s lack of time to tell the story properly, the typecasting is necessary.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Length of the Film Undermines the Complexity of the Topic
There’s evidence Webb’s dedication to his investigation kept him away from his family and taxed his relationship with the newspaper he worked for. It’s oversimplified in this telling.
- More Questions Than Answers
Maybe this was the goal but the questions aren’t necessarily “Is Webb telling the truth?” or “To what lengths will the government go to stymie the reporter?” Instead, for this viewer, they were more in the details left out which had very little to do with Webb’s reporting or the government’s culpability or capability.
- Intertwining Actual Footage of Events Tied to Webb’s Investigation Creates Annoyance Not Affirmation
Kill the Messenger throws in actual footage in an effort to fill the gaps. It doesn’t work.