In today’s world, there are many sources from which we can stay informed and up-to-date on current events. Our thoughts and opinions are shaped and sometimes transformed via the various media outlets that we choose to indulge in.
So it almost goes without saying that by selecting a specific news channel, a website, or a paper to gain information from, we are signing away a portion of our personal intuition, and granting that outlet the freedom to perhaps skew or manipulate our perspectives on certain matters, depending on their personal slants. Media manipulation, of course, is not a new thing, but it is very much a real, pervasive, and even frightening element to our information intake—of which today there is a lot of—that we should perhaps be more conscious of.
Lights up, then, on Gary Stephen Webb, father, husband, and former investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who is the subject of Michael Cuesta’s newest thriller, Kill the Messenger. The film chronicles the events and circumstances leading up to the writing of Webb’s controversial Dark Alliance article back in August 1996, and the smear campaign that manifested against him thereafter. In this Mercury News publication and, two years later, in a book also entitled Dark Alliance, Webb exposes the CIA’s role in smuggling cocaine into the United States and subsequently funneling the profits towards supporting the Contras in Nicaragua. Kill the Messenger takes us through Webb’s entire journey, from the first hint of this story, to his extensive on-site research, to his post-publication triumph, and ultimately, to his downfall as a result of the controversy and the tarnished reputation he carried as a result of media manipulation.
The movie itself was a real ride. Both intense and exhilarating, and sometimes even exhausting, the film wasted no time in dropping us into the pulse of the story. Unfortunately, this resulted in a tediously mediocre opening that felt rushed and lacking proper set-up that made the first 20 minutes seem like an indecisive montage of confusing, synthetic clichés, changing setting once every blink, and rounded off with very contrived, thriller-movie-slick-dialogue-that-intelligent-and-important-people-speak-in. What the film lost from some cringe-worthy lines and a sloppy introduction, however, the rest of the film had elements that more than made up for it.
The majority of the characters in Kill the Messenger are quite stock, to be frank. Rosemarie DeWitt as Webb’s emotionally victimized wife was an incredibly two-dimensional character and only served to do all of the movie’s crying (DeWitt did a fantastic job, nonetheless). Along these same lines, the film utilizes Coral Baca, played by Paz Vega, in the messy opening sequence as a complete Hollywood archetype, the young, seductive Hispanic woman who struts in to provide information and a healthy dose of cleavage. Fortunately, Jeremy Renner, who, for the first time does double duty as both actor and producer, turns in a satisfyingly complex performance as the troubled and consistently misrepresented journalist that carried the heft of the character and the story with great agility. The pace of the story never faltered, and the film maintained a intense momentum, even in calmer scenes, that, by the time you’ve experienced a hundred minutes of being on the edge of your seat, it’s easy to forgive and forget the relatively minor faults of the stumbling start. Kill the Messenger was exciting without being excessive, emotional without being sappy, and meaningful without being preachy, a delicate balance that renders this a very worthwhile docudrama to catch.
“Kill The Messenger” is now playing.