“Some stories are too true to tell,” says a character in Kill the Messenger, an earnest, idealistic but unsatisfying movie about the disgraceful smear job and scapegoating done to San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter Gary Webb when, in 1996, he uncovered and wrote about a vast and complex involving the CIA arming and training anti-socialist Contra rebels in Nicaragua and flooding California with cocaine. Not only did Webb blow the lid on the U.S.’ shady dealings in Iran but he also exposed corporate media’s complicity in covering up the story, deliberately burying it under the titillating but comparatively inconsequential Monica Lewinsky-President Bill Clinton shenanigans.
The story of the government’s targeting the intrepid, obsessive Webb, so hounded and discredited that he lost his job and family, is a powerful and shameful one, worthy of screen treatment on the level of All The President’s Men, Zodiac or a good, juicy cable miniseries. But Kill the Messenger — a ‘70s-style whistleblower tale produced by and starring an excellent, all-in Jeremy Renner — does Webb no favors. Directed by Emmy-winner Michael Cuesta (Homeland) and based on a screenplay by Peter Landesman (adapted from Webb’s book Dark Alliance and from Nick Schou’s Kill the Messenger), the movie gets its biggest jolt of energy from Renner who completely convinces as a good reporter and complicated husband and father of three who rides a hog, likes his beer and is a bit of pain in the ass.
For all the movie’s obvious good intentions, especially in the age of Julian Assange and TMZ, it’s humorless, indifferently filmed and overstuffed with cameos from Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, and more. Kill the Messenger painstakingly makes the case that it tells a story which matters but fails to tell us why we should be outraged. ** ½