Kill the Messenger: See This Film—Movie

“Some stories too true to tell” is the sad truth of “Kill the Messenger.” “Kill the Messenger” is the little known, but genuine story of how journalist Gary Webb broke the biggest story of his career, and in the story’s aftermath, was unbelievably let down by so many people and institutions who should have known better. Directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Peter Landesman, the film is based on Gary Webb’s book,” “Dark Alliance,” and the book “Kill the Messenger” by Nick Schou. Knowing that this story is true makes it even more painful to sit through as we watch Webb’s career and personal life take a slow dive for doing his job and doing it well.


Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. In 1996 he receives a tip which eventually leads him to write a series for the paper called “Dark Alliance,” which is about the CIA’s involvement in the early years of the crack-cocaine trade…that it funneled millions dollars in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the CIA. Initially hailed as a groundbreaking story, petty jealousy by larger newspapers like the New York Times and, most especially, the Washington Post set out to systematically debunk his story and smear him. Webb’s own paper doesn’t have the stones to stand by him and what follows is heartbreaking, especially since, as the whole world learns later, his entire story is true.

Jeremy Renner as Webb is just terrific. He captures perfectly the highs and lows that Webb faces and endures. Renner’s work with the actors who portray his family members is also especially good. Rosemarie DeWitt, wonderful at representing the everyday wife and mother on-screen, turns in another golden performance as Webb’s wife, Sue. Oliver Platt is just right as the San Jose Mercury News’ weasily editor, Jerry Ceppos, who proves to be too much of a coward to back Webb. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also excellent as Anna Simons, Webb’s editor. She stands by him when she can, but is not eager to see her career go down in flames with his. Richard Schiff, who lately seems to be taking on roles as human beings just slightly better than venal rats, has another terrific performance as petty Washington Post editor, Richard Zuckerman. Michael Sheen is outstanding as Washington insider, Fred Weil, with horror stories of his own for doing the right thing. Weil does his best to warn and support Webb of what is about to befall him and is the one who whispers the memorable line to Webb, “Some stories too true to tell.” “Kill the Messenger” is full of other terrific supporting character actors in the roles of newspaper personnel, federal agents, and criminals–all who bring just the right touch of verisimilitude to the film.

As a journalism major myself, I found “Kill the Messenger” at times really difficult to watch. All of my adult life, for me, the Washington Post has been the one news source upon which I could rely for the truth. To see this paper…the one who broke the Watergate story and most recently has been leading the way in reporting the shortcomings of the Secret Service…seems beyond comprehension that it would kowtow to the CIA in such a manner. Viewing how other so-called journalistic entities treated Webb is also extremely disheartening. This is one film that makes you want to Google more on the topic…to learn more about Webb and more on the overall subject…and hoping against hope that some of this movie is not true. Unfortunately doing more research proves this is not the case.

Brilliantly written and acted, “Kill the Messenger” should be on your viewing list.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4


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3 Responses to “Kill the Messenger: See This Film—Movie”

  1. thycriticman Says:

    Really stoked to see this! Renner impressed with his acting ability in American Hustler and I’m honestly really excited to see more of what he can do in a movie that allows his talents to show!


  2. JustMeMike Says:

    NIce review Joan – I guess in my own review – I gave it only 3 point zero on a 1 to 5 scale – I said I was disappointed that the film shifted away from the story (that Webb wrote) and turned toward Webb’s victimization.

    Unfortunately that was the whole point of the film – how a solid reporter wrote a terrific piece/series and his reward was to be hounded out of the business.

    Your review points out how the big news entities unfairly reacted. Maybe I was blinded to that fact as I watched, then wrote – because the story that Webb wrote was such a downer – you know pointing out the dark sides of our own government. Then the aftermath on a personal level for him was also difficult to deal with.

    Here’s a question for you – how come this film opened in less than 400 theaters? Which is only barely above the term limited and far below the standard openings called wide which open in 1000’s of theaters.Do you think there’s a hand at play in STILL keeping Webb and his story under wraps?


    • Joan Fuchsman Says:

      Thanks for your comments, Mike. I think it’s interesting that we both opened our reviews with the same quote, but it stuck with me for some reason.

      I do get your point about the shift in story, but I was ok with that because I thought that’s what they were going for…his personal story. His own story is so compelling and depressing at the same time.The film left me angry and disappointed…similar to the feelings I had after seeing the documentary about Pat Tillman.

      I did notice in the commercials for the film, they mentioned it opening in limited release followed by a wider distribution. In DC, it was showing at the AMC theatres among others, but this is the kind of film that usually does well here.

      One thing the film did do for me was to make me want to read Webb’s book. Jeremy Renner has been out publicizing the movie like crazy, but other than him there are no real names and that might be part of the reason for the smaller opening. I also have a feeling they might not have known how to market it. I hope it ends up doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

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