Sometimes, there are occasions when you go to the cinema, not knowing what's on, and just choose the film that starts next. This happened to me a few days ago. I was going to see Chappie but the negative reviews led me to looking at a different film to watch, and I ended up choosing Kill The Messenger and I'm glad I did. I'm a sucker for these kinds of films and this is one of the best examples to come recently.
The plot concerns the investigations by Gary Webb, a journalist for the San Jose Mercury News, into the level of involvement the CIA had in the cocaine trade in the 1980s, allowing cocaine to be brought into the US and using the money to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Throughout the film, we see Webb try and find any evidence aside from the word of the drug dealers that he interviews. Along with this is the pressure he faces over the safety of his family should he report the story. After the story is published however, the story turns away from the drug deals and towards him, with the attacks mainly coming from the LA Times and The Washington Post, with the focus being that his reporting was sloppy, with the prospect of CIA involvement in discrediting Webb being in the background at all times. I found the whole idea of the CIA being involved in the drug trade to be a very interesting idea, one that I'm not surprised happened and I also wasn't surprised that the CIA did everything in their power to discredit Webb and even indirectly threatened his family. It's also intriguing that Webb was not the first person to investigate the CIA over everything, with Webb talking to other people who investigated, who warn him that the CIA will do everything to stop him. It ultimately becomes an issue of journalistic ethics over whether he should print the story. It's also really depressing to see that every journalist who proudly stood by Webb and called him one of the best journalists in the country turned against him the instant The LA Times and The Washington Post raised issues with his reporting, with virtually none of them following up on his story and those that did found that none of the people Webb talked to would talk to them. It's all incredibly interesting and these ideas are presented in a very intelligent way. I don't know if everything that happened in the film happened in real life but I wouldn't be surprised if it was the case.
The performances are what make this worth watching. I've always found Jeremy Renner to be a bit hit and miss. He's great as Hawkeye in the MCU but I've never really been convinced by Renner in other roles. Here it's a completely different story. He's incredibly compelling as Webb, showing the drive he has to make sure that the story is reported correctly, the anger over what the CIA is doing and how conflicted he is over whether to report the story and risk the safety of his family or not report it and let the CIA get away with it. This sense of confliction is aided by Rosemary DeWitt as Susan Webb, who clearly wants Gary to report the story to the best of his ability, but is concerned about the safety, with this also being shown by Lucas Hedges as Webb's son Ian. For the newspaper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great as Anna Simons, the editor, who shows a lot of faith in Webb's reporting and wants to give him every opportunity to gain the full information but the higher ups in the paper won't allow her to do so, with these represented best by Oliver Platt, who falls into the category of people who originally supported Webb but the accusations against him got to him. Good work is done in smaller roles by Michael Sheen as Fred Weil, someone who tried to investigate the CIA but stopped due to threats against him, Tim Blake Nelson as a lawyer who helps Webb get the ball rolling at the start of the investigation and Michael K Williams as one of the drug dealers that the CIA indirectly used to sell cocaine. There's also great scene stealing turns from Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Ray Liotta, Richard Schiff and Robert Patrick, rounding out a stellar cast.
Overall, Kill The Messenger is one of the best surprises I've had watching a film in a while. I went in to see it with no expectations, barely knowing anything about it, and was amazed to find an incredibly intelligent thriller boosted by a great script by Peter Landesman and a top notch performance by Jeremy Renner.
My Rating: 5/5