Kill the Messenger

Directed By: Michael Cuesta

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Richard Schiff, Robert Patrick, and Michael K. Williams

History is often the best way to validate an opinion.  We could all debate our friends and loved ones in perpetuity based on opinions alone, but facts are facts.  Regardless of who’s writing history, there are always certain irrefutable facts.  When I watched this weekend's Kill the Messenger, I found myself thinking of Edward Snowden, a bold man I've defended vigorously on many occasions in heated conversations.  It may be that his new documentary Citizenfour had a trailer released several days ago or that his controversial yet necessary deeds just happen to be on my mind.  Regardless, he was on my mind while watching Kill the Messenger, and I couldn't help but think about how right he was to gain asylum outside the U.S. after exposing its nasty underbelly.  That's a lesson he perhaps learned from other bold men like the late San Jose - Mercury Times journalist Gary Webb.

Though he sees himself as a serious investigative journalist, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) has never been taken seriously by the media industry.  Working for the San Jose - Mercury Times, Webb's most recent story is about alleged drug dealers like Ronald J. Quail (Robert Patrick) whose constitutional rights were violated when the FBI unlawfully seized their property and kept it long after the suspected criminals were acquitted of all charges.  He's just a local news guy.  Raising his kids alongside his wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt), Gary doesn't mind the state of his career because he's also living the family life.  All this changes when Coral Baca (Paz Vega) enters his world and drops a news bomb.

Baca is the girlfriend of a drug dealer, and she has an explosive story for Gary.  She hands over some classified documentation from the Justice Department that suggests that the federal government has been long aware and in fact complicit in the illicit activities of Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez).  Deciding to dig into this lead to uncover the story and infuriate folks like federal prosecutor Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), Gary discovers the stunning reality that the CIA had a hand in the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued black communities for years.  Based on his interactions with notorious men such as Norwin Meneces (Andy Garcia) and Ricky Ross (Michael K. Williams), he learns that the CIA used the revenues from selling drugs to Americans to fund a war in Nicaragua that Congress would not support.  With the support of his editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and their boss Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt), Gary publishes an article about the scandalous actions of the clandestine agency.  Little does he realize what length they will go to in order to keep their image untarnished.

Kill the Messenger is one of those films that reminds me of how unbelievably unethical our federal government can be, especially its unofficial fourth branch the media.  The film recreates a public relations war on a grand scale, one in which the media shamefully serves as a puppet of the CIA with the sole purpose of keeping the agency's skeletons in the closet.  Director Michael Cuesta crafts one macabre world full of lies and deceit where this raw intensity gradually builds.  Featuring a stellar ensemble that delivers the goods, Cuesta's Kill the Messenger is one taut thriller that brings a national sin back to the forefront that should have never been forgotten.

Since The Town, Jeremy Renner has been making a play to cement his status as a box office star.  Over the last several years, he's appeared in films such as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Avengers, and The Bourne Legacy.  While this has all been entertaining popcorn fare, these aren't the films where actors showcase their stuff.  Though he had a role in last year's American Hustle, Kill the Messenger marks Renner's true return to more serious acting, and it's certainly a pleasure to have him back.  As Gary Webb, Renner gives a fiery performance full of emotion, passion, and conviction.  This man in search of the truth finds only psychological torment via a public crucifixion, and Renner deftly brings this to the forefront throughout the film.  With this conflicted, tortured soul, Renner reminds us that he is one of the great talents in Hollywood today.

Renner's supporting cast members don't disappoint either.  For her part as Gary's wife Sue, Rosemarie DeWitt gives us a warm character who helps her husband deal with the massive challenges in front of him by giving him what no one else is for the vast majority of the film — love.  As Anna Simons and Jerry Ceppos, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Oliver Platt give us two pragmatic characters whose loyalties align with their own self-interests alone.  In rather guarded performances, they can be equally loyal and disloyal to Gary.  The remaining army of actors with bit roles all bring interesting personalities to the camera and only help to accentuate all the lies and deceit swirling about in the film.

Kill the Messenger is my kind of thriller, and it puts a mirror in the face of the media to show its ugly face. With the 24-hour news cycle and the corresponding rise of infotainment, genuine investigative journalism intended to bring useful fact-based information to the masses is a relic of the past.  Sadly, this is true whether we're talking about television, radio, or print.  It's all intended to give a mindless public exactly what they want and not what they need.  Cuesta's thriller potently reminds us what we miss when the media doesn't do its job.  Kill the Messenger gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.