It’s just about that time of the year when all the films that see themselves competing in the upcoming Oscar season start turning up on our shores – at least those that will actually make it here without the post award hype in belated releases. Some of the worthy ones will indeed make the competition for the fateful night when a films place in history will ultimately be decided (for all that an Oscar is actually worth). The others, which are deliberately trying to court awards buzz without the necessary high standard of filmmaking to go along with it, will have a brief moment in the spotlight before fading into the obscurity of the ITunes and Netflix faults. Kill the Messenger is an example of the latter, an all-too obvious ploy at the period social film that Academy has seen fit to award of late (think Argo and 12 Years A Slave).
Telling the true story of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), whose articles exposed the involvement of the United States government in importing and selling crack cocaine to help finance the Nicaraguan Contras in their revolution during the 1980’s, the film follows his journey of celebrated reporter to ridiculed martyr in the aftermath of his reporting when he’s attacked and labelled a fraud by his fellow newsmen, the Government and finally by his own newspaper. History has since vindicated him. After an impressive credits sequence that catches us up to speed with US political history for the previous forty years, the first half of the film follows his journey has he investigates and writes his articles and the second as his personal life is thrown into disarray as his family deals with the consequences of his reporting.
The first half of the film, which sticks frustratingly close to the formula outlined by All the President’s Men (still perhaps the definitive example of this film) is the most successful. It engages the audience on Webb’s whirlwind investigation and makes us support his crusade for the truth. This is unfortunately abandoned in the second half when the film becomes entirely about him as a reporter and how it affects his family.
On the films plus side is a solid cast featuring one of the best line ups of character actors for the last several years, albeit in mostly cameos. Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Gil Bellows, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta as the films ‘Deep Throat’ all add color to their scenes in the film. Jeremy Renner, who has the ability and charisma to be one of his generations best leading man, tries a little too hard as Webb, but Lucas Hedges as his eldest son and Rosemarie DeWitt as his wife are both excellent in their respective roles – Hedges in particular demonstrating a strong emotional subtlety which will hopefully lead to big things in the future.
Despite its pretentiousness, Kill the Messenger is a good movie; it’s just nowhere near the great one it sets out to be.
Kill the Messenger is in Australian cinemas from 30 October through Transmission Films.