Kill The Messenger **** (out of five)
The unpretentious, no-nonsense adult realism of Sidney Lumet permeates the style of journalism thriller Kill The Messenger, and that’s a delightful thing. Michael Cuesta’s clean, smart and vivid portrait of Gary Webb, a journalist for the San Jose Mercury News who, in the mid-80s, broke a story involving the CIA, crack cocaine and Nicaraguan rebels, and then faced the consequences, is precise storytelling. It’s full of crack actors doing sweet, professional turns, has an enticing aesthetic, and provides plenty of food for thought.
Webb is played by Jeremy Renner, very well. Not so much a crusading journalist as an ambitious reporter who chances upon – well, a great big chance – Webb was imperfect but had strains of nobility, and Renner plays him with a palette of many greys. Like the film, his performance is not at all showy, but completely absorbing in its workmanlike professionalism. He’s strongly supported by Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (when does she get to be a big star?) and a likeable Oliver Platt, with one-and-two scene cameos from Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Robert Patrick, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, Richard Schiff and Ray Liotta! No doubt they were all drawn by the tight, suspenseful script which treats its audience like adults, and smart ones, too.
Cuesta’s cut his teeth on some very fine television, directing multiple episodes of, among other shows, Six Feet Under, Dexter and Homeland. I’ll be looking forward to his next feature, because Kill The Messenger is an excellent piece of work.