It’s Oscar season and time for the latest crop of award hopefuls to start to spring up in your local theaters. One category that is a favorite of Academy voters is the political thriller, which defines Kill the Messenger to a tee. Directed by Michael Cuesta (Showtime’s Homeland), the film tells the true story of journalist Gary Webb, who broke the story of the CIA’s involvement in the trafficking of cocaine from Central America during the contra war in Nicaragua. Jeremy Renner leads an all star cast in this powerfully thought provoking film.
Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) was a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who wrote for the San Jose Mercury News in the 1990s. During this time, Webb began to investigate the seizures of suspected drug dealers’ property by the DEA, which led to some interesting information regarding the government’s treatment of those who were considered to be enemies of the war on drugs. After receiving a call from an associate of one of these targeted drug moguls, Webb is presented with grand jury evidence that Nicaraguan drug traffickers had sold and distributed crack cocaine into Los Angeles during the 1980s, and that drug profits were used to fund the CIA-supported Nicaraguan Contras.
Webb’s investigation leads him to quickly realize that this is like no story he’s ever encountered. Taking his information to San Jose Mercury News editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), she agrees to allow Webb to travel to Central America, Washington DC and ground zero of the US drug epidemic, South Central Los Angeles, to follow the story to its darkest points and to find the answers needed to validate the biggest story of their careers. Webb returns from his journey armed with enough evidence to pen the Mercury News’ controversial story “Dark Alliance” in 1996, which validated the claim that the US government was directly involved in the drug trafficking in the United States. The subsequent aftermath would change Gary Webb’s life forever.
As far as political thrillers go, the pacing and storytelling of this docudrama is reminiscent of director Michael Cuesta other creation, Homeland, in many ways. The filmmaker’s decision to stay up tempo and avoid the pitfalls of providing too much background information keeps the film interesting and never loses the audience into an over abundance of unnecessary facts. When the focus turns to Webb’s personal life, the director relies more on his actors to drive home the emotional tolls that have been taken by each party involved and shows the true nature of working within the political landscape. A credit to the directors faith in the team he’s assembled.
Jeremy Renner turns in his best performance since 2008’s The Hurt Locker. Renner’s portrayal of Gary Webb is fearless and plays the character with a confidence that allows him to explore more emotional and less physical aspects of the reporters struggles. The ensemble cast consisting of Hollywood’s finest actors is another strength for Renner to play his character off of. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosemarie DeWitt providing the strongest of the performances. Winstead as the editor and DeWitt as Webb’s wife help guide Renner’s moral center and execute their roles with perfection. The trio of Oliver Platt, Barry Pepper, and Ray Liotta provide, at various times, the dangers of the world in which Webb is maneuvering and the real consequences that are involved for climbing down the rabbit hole. A well rounded cast and one that is enjoyable to watch.
Overall, Kill the Messenger is thought-provoking film with great acting that will entertain and inform. History enthusiasts will undoubtedly be talking about this one afterwards.
3 1/2 out of 5
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