Diagnosis-Kill The Messenger is a fierce reminder that important films can still be made in Hollywood if the right people come together to make them happen and there is an audience ready to digest serious material. A lot of films are good but few actually teach you something vital about history and the way America was built. This film gets the facts straight, taking the pages of a novel and fusing them into blunt strokes of filmmaking.
Jeremy Renner powers a well-balanced cast of actors born to play these roles and puts another gold star on his acting resume with his unforgettable performance as Gary Webb, a hard charging journalist in the 90’s who pushed too hard. Webb wrote for the San Jose Mercury News and uncovered a story that connected the War on Drugs and Nicaragua drug dealers to the CIA. Webb wrote it and when bigger newspapers got mad that they weren’t the first to break the story, the flack flew back at Webb and his paper. The golden rule of newspapers (at least among the bigger ones) is simple. Be the first to break a controversial story or be the first to break it down.
Renner is amazing and the film hinges on our ability to find interest in his fight and his story. The papers did everything to smear his name and destroyed his life, and the transformation in Renner’s performance is crisp. When we first meet him, he is energetically tracking down a lead on a story and when we leave him, the entire façade of what he believed in has crumbled to the floor. Bringing to mind a younger and hungrier Sean Penn, Renner gets inside Webb’s head and shows us what made him tick and what led him to explode.
True story journalism tales are hard for me to avoid. Cuesta and screenwriter Paul Landesman paint the film in gritty gray and cinematographer Sean Bobbit gives it a vintage 1970’s spy film look and feel. The score by Nathan Johnson(Brothers Bloom) doesn’t overpower the story or acting yet places bittersweet finishes on scenes.
The supporting cast is stellar and gives Renner all he can handle. DeWitt is the suffering wife, dealing with the blowback as much as Webb did due to his past mistakes. Nelson, Williams, Platt and Liotta all get a handful of scenes and deliver key performances. Andy Garcia is memorable in one scene and Barry Pepper does fine work as a lawyer bedeviled by Webb. These kinds of stories attract these type of casts. Actors who crave a job that has juice hanging from it and challenges them flock to this type of work. Renner can’t seem to miss these days. From his breakthrough in Hurt Locker to The Town to The Bourne Legacy, Renner just keeps on rolling. He has come a long way from fighting Next Best Thing at the time Colin Farrell in S.W.A.T. many years ago. In a day and age where many actors choose a paycheck over a pillar in their legacy, Renner tries to make all of them count.
While it may not be as white hot and popular as Gone Girl or The Judge this month, Kill The Messenger deserves a big audience. It will play well on screen and at home. This would be a good way to spend a couple hours stranded on the side of the road. If it makes you go out and purchase Webb’s book “Dark Alliance”, the movie has done its job. If it makes you think about the way our government works and the secrets held behind those doors in Washington, it worked. If it makes you feel sad for hard working journalists who hold no fear in telling a story the public needs to know, it hit the bullseye.
See this film. Make it a priority. It doesn’t pull a single punch in telling Webb’s bittersweet tale and doesn’t beg for your sympathy. It’s an important film.