Small-time journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) keeps hearing variations on that statement, delivered by Washington insider Fred Weil (Michael Sheen). ‘What he’s getting into’ is a national scandal involving the CIA, Nicaragua and thousands of kilos of cocaine smuggled into the United States daily. Webb is a 1990s Jake Gittes, his investigation defined by femme fatales (well, one), his own brash confidence and a mounting sense of danger as he approaches the truth.
“We wouldn’t threaten your family,” a CIA agent flatly informs Webb. And the action-packed thriller threatened by Renner’s presence never eventuates. He publishes his story and Kill the Messenger shifts gears from a tense conspiracy thriller/procedural to a character study. Or a study of a character assassination, of a society that claims to value the truth yet inevitably punishes whistleblowers.
The story is based in fact, as director Michael Cuesta reminds us with the regular incorporation of stock footage and his unfussy but effective photography. The editing is the film’s biggest weak spot, mishandling montages and the mid-film shift between tones, but the potent, physical emotional continuity Renner brings to the role ensures this is only a minor flaw.