Monday, October 13, 2014

KILL THE MESSENGER: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Michael Cuesta, 2014)

This thriller/biopic, now playing at an indie art house near me, comes off a bit like JFK Jr., and I’m not talking about John-John, the late offspring of John F. Kennedy. 

KILL THE MESSENGER plays felt like a lesser offspring of Oliver Stone’s 1991 classic of political paranoia in its depiction of a story based on real events involving a truth-seeking everyman uncovering a vast conspiracy involving a powerful governmental agency that could squash him like a bug. 

Here, a scruffy mustached Jeremy Renner passionately portrays investigative reporter Gary Webb, who caused quite a stir in the mid 90’s when he exposed the CIA’s involvement with the U.S. crack epidemic in a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News.

The first half of the film, scripted by Peter Landesman (PARKLAND) has Renner's Webb following leads about drug trafficking through interviews with Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) as infamous '80s LA drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross, Tim Blake Nelson as Ross's lawyer, Robert Patrick as an accused drug dealer whose property was seized by the feds, and Andy Garcia as an imprisoned drug lord who Renner travels to Nicaragua to speak to.

The second half deals with Webb publishing his story and initially being hailed as a hero, on both the homefront with his wife Rosemarie DeWitt and kids, and at the office with his editors (Oliver Platt and North Carolina native Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but then getting investigated and gradually discredited by the CIA. 

These sequences of Webb's decline, involving his estrangement from his family and being holed up in a sleazy hotel room with its walls lined with photos, newspaper articles, strings-tying-suspects-together, etc, (you know, like crazy yet righteous people like Carrie from Homeland do?), are tedious in their over familiarity. 

The case that the CIA worked with Central American drug dealers with profits from cocaine sales in the U.S. used to arm the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua is a compelling one, but we're never given more of a breakdown of the mechanics that were at play. We, like Renner, are just supposed to take folks' words on these things, but a scene that intensely takes us into the operation would've been nice. I don't feel like I learned anything more about the inside workings than I did seeing the trailer.

Director Cuesta, who’s produced and directed episodes of Homeland, Dexter, and Six Feet Under, gets a good gritty mood going, but the power of the material dims as it tracks Webb’s decline. It sort of peters out.

And, again, like JFK, it has a scroll of text at the end that tells us that this guy was right about everything all along.

On the surface, this adaptation of Nick Schou’s 2006 book “Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Web” and Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series of articles, is a solidly structured film with a powerful lead performance by Renner (possibly his best to date), but its overdone conspiracy thriller framework renders it into just a cinematic footnote to what really went down.

At least this'll have moviegoers looking up stuff on the real guy online. Maybe there they'll actually learn something.

More later...

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