Kill The Messenger

Director: Michael Cuesta (2015)

Despite a plot of international significance featuring political corruption, money laundering and drug dealing, this real-life thriller is surprisingly weak and muddled.

It’s a busy dramatisation of the fall from grace of investigative reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner). Uncertain of tone it begins as a courtroom romp, rifles into an astonishing hard news story then dissolves into a dull human interest feature.

Renner hides behind a goatee bristling with self-righteous rage but his taciturn everyman act lacks charisma. His two Oscar nominations (The Town, The Hurt Locker) seem ever more indebted to strong direction than any tremendous ability.

A scruffy family man with a penchant for British cars, motorbikes and music, Webb works on the small San Jose Mercury newspaper.

In a 1996 newsroom teeming with now unimaginable numbers of staff, Webb is indulged by young editor Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and avuncular executive editor Jerry (Oliver Platt).

One day the glamorous Nicaraguan Coral (Paz Vega) drops a folder of confidential information into his lap. The first of many characters to pop up before being forgotten, she uses an unwitting Webb to have her boyfriend’s court prosecution collapse.

Following the info in the folder, Webb is soon interviewing incarcerated drug-dealer Rick Ross (Michael K. Williams). He claims the CIA turned a blind eye to Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez) importing industrial quantities of cocaine as it served their foreign policy purposes. The enormous sums of cash raised funded the Contra’s attacks on the communist Nicaraguan government.

It’s a doddle for Webb to bribe his way into a Nicaraguan jail to meet fearsome drug baron Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia). Everybody is happy to tell the journalist exactly what he needs – which means there’s no tension or drama to his story-gathering.

Publishing his story online (a novelty at the time) attracts nationwide attention. Webb is nominated for journalist of the year but quickly competitors line up to challenge the story, mostly by pointing to his conspicuous lack of evidence.

Now painted as a conspiracy theorist, Webb himself becomes the story. He’s convinced the CIA are in cahoots with the Washington Post to discredit him and the pressure affects his relationship with wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) and teenage son Ian (Lucas Hedges).

Blinded by his indignant anger to the realities of the world and consumed by a martyr complex, Webb is demoted to a backwater department but keeps obsessively working the case.

Government insiders Fred Weil and John Cullen (Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta) appear in cameos to confirm Webb’s theories. They could well be figments of his imagination.

As his paranoia increases Webb sees prowlers in the dark and enemies everywhere. When his bike is nicked he stupidly smashes up his own car and harangues passes-by. As Webb’s mental state deteriorates his attire becomes progressively sharper.

Webb suffers a tragic end but the film fails to provide sufficient evidence to support it’s theory as to why.

★☆☆

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