Renner a ‘Messenger’ of Truth

In August 1996, Gary Webb broke a story for the San Jose Mercury News called “Dark Alliance” that claimed that the C.I.A., along with top government officials, used funds from cocaine sales to finance the illegal 1980s Contra war in Nicaragua.

Webb’s story is a chilling reminder of what can happen to a journalist who uncovers dirty government secrets and attempts to pursue the truth.

Do the names Woodward and Bernstein set off any alarms?

The phrase “the bigger they are the harder they fall” may apply to sumo wrestlers, but certainly not heavyweights like Oliver North or John Deutch.

In fact, it is more accurate to say, “the bigger they are the easier they escape,” and nowhere is it truer than in this case.

In “Kill the Messenger,” Webb is portrayed by the incredibly talented Jeremy Renner, who scored a best actor nod in the 2010 best picture winner “The Hurt Locker.”

While his performance isn’t Oscar-worthy, it is nevertheless a powerful one. As Webb peels back the layers of the onion of corruption, we see his transformation from a loving and endearing husband and father of three to a man pushed to the brink of professional and personal destruction. All of this happens simply because he was doing his job.

Webb believes what all journalists should believe (to steal a line from the film): that the truth doesn’t contain shades of grey.

He opens the can of worms the U.S. government is hiding and, instead of slamming it shut and walking away, reaches for his hooks and lets the impaling begin, damn the consequences.

As he says, when questioned and threatened C.I.A. style (“We would never hurt your family, Mr. Webb”) by a cabal of government thugs,“ I’m writing this story.”

In contrast to Renner’s charged performance is a flat and uninspiring turn from Oliver Platt as Webb’s boss Jerry Ceppos, as well as a forgettable cameo from Ray Liotta, who plays an informant that subsequently disappears after speaking to Webb (surprise, surprise).

Andy Garcia also makes a brief appearance as a source in a Nicaraguan prison who extols the virtues of the almighty five-iron. There is, however, great chemistry between Webb and his wife and son, played by Rosemarie DeWitt and Lucas Hedges, respectively.

This family dynamic allows us to see that along with Webb, his family was also a casualty of the fallout, which makes what happens to him that much more despicable.

Besides the government, an equally odious presence in the film is the various news outlets, such as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, who spend their time and effort discrediting and dissecting Webb instead of following the story.

Fact-checking and follow-ups aside, they make it a point to smear Webb and shun him as if he were an Amish man returning to the farm with a skull tattoo and a stripper.

There are moments when the film feels stagnant, but Renner carries the load quite well, at times with nothing more than an electric gaze or a savagely thrown fist.

There are also a few symbolic and lasting images, such as Webb glancing across the reflecting pool to the domineering Capitol building, showing us the seemingly impossible task of one man tackling the tentacles of government venality.

“Kill the Messenger” is not only a necessary peek into the dark shadows that lurk beneath the banner of free speech, but also a sobering realization of what one must be willing to endure if the truth is to be heard.

 

RECOMMENDED: Despite moments where the film feels slow, Renner’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.