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USA 2014
Directed by
Michael Cuesta
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Kill The Messenger

Synopsis: When investigative  journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) working for a small newspaper uncovers the CIA's involvement with the importing of cocaine into the United States in the 1980s in order to finance the anti-democratic Contras in Nicaragua he is hailed as hero by his peers and the media. But once the powers-that-be move in to discredit him he finds himself on his own.

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent". Such, more or less, is core of Kill The Messenger.  Although the first half of the film is given over All The President's Men style to recounting Gary Webb’s dogged investigation of CIA involvement behind the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic that had a disastrous effect on poor black urban communities across America and in particular, in Los Angeles there is no Presidential head on a pikestaff here. Quite the converse in fact. Webb is intimidated by the CIA,  discredited by the mainstream media, shunned by his work colleagues and eventually ostracised by his profession.

If Michael Cuestra’s film is fairly unremarkable, even a little superficial, in portraying the series of events leading up to Webb’s shattering series of articles as he battles a sceptical editor (Mary Elizabeth Winsted) and a cautious chief (Oliver Platt), doggedly turns up remarkably talkative witness after witness and so on, all tropes that we have seen many times before in films of this stripe, it is once the tide turns against Webb that it becomes something of its own.

In the lead, Renner returns to the form he displayed in The Hurt Locker and has not been seen from him since.  As an ordinary Joe naively believing in the values of the American Constitution and like so many before him struggling to comprehend their absence from the corridors of power, Renner is perfect, graduating from Boy Scout enthusiasm as he uncovers the dirty secrets, to anger as he is abandoned by his colleagues, to sad resignation as he realizes that no-one really cares about the truth if it threatens their nest.  

Cuestra adopts a suitably low-key quasi-documentary approach and it works well.  Although for the same reason the relatively unknown Rosemary DeWitt is well cast as Webb’s wife, Sue, we get lots of nicely judged cameos from the likes of  well-known faces such as Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta and, notably, the rarely-seen-these-days, Andy Garcia.

Kill The Messenger is a story of individual fortitude and collective cowardice with well-drawn characters and convincing performances made all the more telling because real life lies behind them.




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