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KILL THE MESSENGER (review)

kill_the_messengerKILL THE MESSENGER
Written by Peter Landesman
Directed by Michael Cuesta
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemary Dewitt, Michael Sheen and Paz Vega

Fred Weil: Some stories are just too true to tell.

Director Michael Cuesta is perhaps best known for his work on popular television serials, including Homeland and Dexter. Over the years, Cuesta has proved himself to be a great talent when working within the restraints of a one-hour time slot. He returns to feature filmmaking now with KILL THE MESSENGER but the film cannot shake its made-for-TV movie feel.

KILL THE MESSENGER tells the true story of the late journalist, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), whose entire life changed when he published a highly controversial news article linking the CIA to cocaine smuggling. At the beginning of the film, Gary seems to have it all, with a steady job writing for the San Jose Mercury News, a happy family, and a pretty awesome motorcycle. One day, after publishing an article on drug seizures, he is approached by Coral Baca (Paz Vega), a mysterious woman who claims to have information that could lead to a great story. After Webb agrees to help clear her boyfriend’s name, Baca gives him a file on drug dealer, Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez), which states that he had been working for the DEA. This sets Webb off on a globetrotting quest, was he pursues a conspiracy that alleges the CIA is supplying Contra rebels in Nicaragua with arms, and importing cocaine into the US. Webb publishes a groundbreaking article on the alleged conspiracy, and while the article should’ve done wonders for his career, it results in backlash and an impending sense of doom.

kill-the-messenger-jeremy-renner

KILL THE MESSENGER can be a little confusing at times; viewers may even be tempted to whip out their cell phones during the film to fact check what is going on screen. The problem is that Cuesta tries to overstuff an expansive story into the small running time allotted to feature films. With a director like Cuesta at the helm, it would have made a lot more sense for the story to be told in a miniseries, or at least a two-part TV movie. Due to this, we see locations and characters appear and disappear in brief moments. The film has such a large cast of great actors (including Rosemary Dewitt, Michal K. Williams, Ray Liotta, Michael Sheen, and more), many of whom appear in one to two scenes. What we are left with is only one character who is given any time to grow and develop, surrounded by a series of dismissible caricatures.

Though most of the actors (and their characters) in KILL THE MESSENGER are rendered practically pointless, Renner is still there to save the day, somewhat at least. Renner does the late journalist justice, portraying him as a flawed man, an actual human being, so to speak. The film could’ve easily wasted its time glorifying a man who truly was too eager and made some mistakes. That is not to imply that the film portrays Webb as a bad person; it doesn’t. He is a great husband and father, and is also a hardworking journalist; but it is his unstoppable drive that eventually leads to his downfall. And just as Renner’s Gary tackles too much at once, so does Cuesta and the film itself.

3 sheep

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