Jeremy Renner is a talented actor but I’m not a big fan. Sometimes it seems he’s trying too hard. Other times he appears to be the wrong person for a particular role. In Kill The Messenger, Renner is perfectly cast and he delivers one of his best performances.
Kill The Messenger is the story of real life investigative reporter Gary Webb (Renner) of the San Jose Mercury News. He is handed a grand jury transcript that leads him to a very big story. When he publishes the story, he is praised. But soon, holes in the story are discovered and his reporting is discredited.
His story, published in August 1996, connected the CIA to drug trafficking in the 1980’s. The drugs, in the form of highly addictive crack cocaine, earned money to buy guns for the Contras in Central America. The paper, a small fish in the national journalistic scene, is elated to break something big. The CIA immediately went to work discrediting the story.
Certain media outlets misinterpreted key elements of the story. Bigger newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times published accounts disputing what Webb had reported. The people at his own paper—editors Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt)—began to doubt that Webb’s sources were legit. The Mercury News bumped him down to working a suburban bureau.
Renner brings good energy to the role of this enthusiastic enterprise reporter who had the story of a lifetime fall into his hands. Renner’s Webb has the ability to get what he needs from all sorts of people, good and bad. He easily convinces his bosses to give him sufficient rope, resources and time to produce the story.
Shortly thereafter, they throw him under the bus and tell him of plans to publish a front-page letter to readers stepping back from the story. When the solid source he needs (Ray Liotta) steps forward, his editors have no interest in keeping the story in play.
Kill The Messenger does not cast doubt on Webb’s reporting and portrays him as a victim of a concerted effort to refute the work that his editors initially praised. It leaves certain questions unanswered: How much did the CIA have to do with Webb’s editors spiking his work? What did the CIA do to provoke the NY and LA Times and Washington Post to attack Webb’s reporting? What made key sources claim they’d never spoken to Webb?
I heartily recommend Kill The Messenger to all my friends who work in media, particularly the ink-stained wretches (affectionate term) at the Post-Dispatch and other print media. It’s great to see hard work and journalistic integrity get such generous onscreen treatment.
(One more thing: Don’t be late. The title sequence is excellent.)