Since The Hurt Locker and The Town, Jeremy Renner has faffed about in forgettable roles in the Marvel movies, in reboots (Bourne) and in sequels (Mission: Impossible 4) but he’s really a character actor with a talent to slip into any role. You’re never watching ‘Jeremy Renner’ and this understated everyman trait is what makes Kill The Messenger tick.
Based on a true story, Renner plays Gary Webb, an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News in the mid-nineties. When he stumbles upon information that suggests the CIA were in cahoots with a Nicaraguan drug smuggler, Webb learns that in order to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels the CIA were flying cocaine into America at a rate of thousands of tons a day, which found its way to the poorest areas of America, namely South Central, LA. However, the more Webb digs, the more pressure it puts on his small paper, his family, and his mental state…
A decent, old-fashioned detective story that draws on the classic seventies paranoid thrillers, Kill The Messenger disappointingly stops shy of being the film it wants to be. The script makes pointed jabs at not only the US government but also the media: not only are Webb’s editors (Winstead and Oliver Platt) unsupportive as the going gets tough, the movie suggests that The Washington Post, the paper that broke the Watergate Scandal, is/was merely a mouthpiece for the CIA.
While deserving of kudos for trying to marry a procedural thriller and a character study, it’s the latter that is a little undercooked. The foray into his personal life, and the reveal of the Big Secret as to why he had to move his family from Cleveland to San Jose, doesn’t measure up to the slow escalating tension of the main plot. It always feels like a distraction from the real story that’s always a scene away from really kicking off.
But it doesn’t really kick off. Kudos again to Michael Cuesta for keeping everything personal - there are no shoot-outs and no car chases – and exploring moments that could be deemed ‘small’ in a movie but in reality would be alarming: like someone in the front garden in the middle of the night, or someone walking a little too closely in an underground carpark. But Cuesta fails to get the pulses racing in these ‘small’ scenes like, say, Michael Mann did with The Insider. The second half doesn’t have anything in the tank to build on what it excellently set up in the first.
Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson and Paz Vega are disappointingly reduced to tiny roles but Renner is able to steer the ship through the second half muddiness.