This isn't so much the story of the deception itself - you can find the 400-page report in which the CIA admits to selling drugs to pay for the rebels - but more about the personal cost of sticking your neck out. By the time the obligatory 'what happened to whom' scrawl appears at the end, we're drained and beaten down, as if the entire exercise exacted nearly the same toll it did with Webb. I think that was Director Michael Cuesta's intention, and if so he executes it with fair mastery. Cuesta cut his teeth on Homeland and Dexter, and while those are excellent examples of dramatic television, he does let a bit of that blood run into the heart of Messenger. Glossing over much of the Contra affair, we learn instead about Webb's difficult relationship with his wife, the community of vultures known as The Press Corp, and the CIA smear campaign that saw him lose everything. Whether audiences will identify with Webb's struggles or see them as saintly worship by Cuesta is anyone's guess, but I found the human story to be more interesting than the documentary that others might have expected. I can get that stuff anywhere - I can't get Renner aspiring to Oscar heights and largely succeeding.
Renner can inhabit any role with perfect assiduousness, and as Gary Webb we see Renner continuing to improve his craft. Webb is as tragic a figure as can be imagined, a born troublemaker who incorrectly assumes that journalism was a safe outlet for his energies. As his professional protectors abandon him, we see Renner instill in Webb a growing gloomy cloud, his head bent further down with every scene. When he's transferred to the Cupertino station we feel saddened; when he loses his marriage and eventually his life, we want to strangle someone. Renner makes a strong case for Webb, a move that his family I'm sure will approve.
Around him is a parade of cameos that will beat anything that The Marvel Cinematic Universe can dish out. Andy Garcia (as gentlemen heavyweight Norwin Menesese), Michael Sheen (as a slimy government insider), and Michael B. Williams (as an LA drug dealer about to get the shaft) are just a few. I'll leave the final one for you to enjoy. Essentially, these cameos amount to single scene roles, building on the story and accelerating Webb's unforseen downward spiral. DeWitt is content to share Renner's scene without demanding to be in its center; and Winstead delivers as Webb's editor. Everyone is given their moment to shine, and each seems to make the most of it. News of Webb's 'suicide' just two years after the story's release will drive some to research the story itself, which I guess is the whole point.
News of this kind is sometimes too big to share, and considering the backlash that citizens of Los Angeles residents shared in the authentic video town hall meetings, it seems that someone did in fact listen. I hope Webb would have been proud of the response, as Cuesta paints analog colors, light noise, and enough 1990's grain to make bread. While the question of its accuracy is already being debated, its Oscar worthiness should not.
Kill the Messenger is Rated R for language and drug content and has a runtime of 112 minutes.
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