HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Kill the Messenger
HTS Overall Score:77
Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. “All the President’s Men” and “The Insider” were fascinating exposes into the corruption and wrong doing that people in power have done over the years. Ironically I never expected Gary Webb’s story to come back to life in film any time soon, as it didn’t seem to be something that really would capture the people’s attention. Michael Cuesta and crew try desperately to make this a vindication of Gary Webb’s accusations, but something keeps the film from gaining much traction, both in the vindication of Gary Webb and in the creative talents at keeping the audience captivated. It’s not a bad thriller, but tends to keep the viewer emotionally distant from the issue at hand.
What made “All the President’s Men” and “The Insider” so fantastically mesmerizing was partially due to the fact that these issues brought up were documented and PROVEN. A true story is many times more fascinating and captivating than fiction as it’s something we can relate to or get excited over. The problem with “Kill the Messenger” is that much of it is still hearsay and unproven allegations. Gary Webb was an investigative Journalese for the San Jose Mercury News in the 90s and he most certainly did write the piece titled “Dark Alliance”, claiming that the U.S. government was complicit in the funneling of crack cocaine into the U.S. and using the profits to fund a war down in Nicaragua that Congress wouldn’t approve of. Gary cited sources, he made claims and in the process he was marginalized by all of his colleagues and peers. His flaw was that he never had any definite proof to his claims, as many of his sources turned out to give different stories and no one could ever trace some of his comments and alleged sources. Gary was labeled an ambitious man, one who wanted to make a name for himself and this story seemed to be his ticket. After being pretty much blackballed out of the Journalist community he lived another 7 years before he was found in his room with 2 bullets in his head, and labeled as an apparent suicide. Now, to be fair, in 1998 the CIA issued a report that showed there was SOME connections to the Contra drug rings, but still nothing definitive linking Gary’s claims that the CIA was actively using the cocaine trade as a source for funding an illegal war. This is where I have to make a beef with the movie, for they took the end conclusion (that Gary Webb was right) and then created a movie around it, despite the lack evidence to substantiate his claims. As such I have to make this statement up front that those watching the film should be more concerned over the movie working as a legitimate film, rather than taking it as a “true story”.
Now, on to the film itself. Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News back in the mid 90s. Before now he’s your average reporter and not someone that anyone would ever single out in a crowd. That all changes when he gets a lead on a drug trafficking case that soon skyrockets him into the public eye. That case itself was just a setup by the drug dealer’s girlfriend, but what he finds under the surface is much more interesting. Getting ahold of a classified report of a drug dealer acting as a confidential informant catches ahold of Gary’s attention. Following the thread back, Gary soon find out more than he ever wanted to know as the informant goes on the witness stand as saying that the CIA actively used the Contra drug trafficking operation as a way to fund the Nicaraguan freedom fighters against Congress’s approval.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37970[/img]Determined to unearth the truth, Gary bucks the odds and starts really digging deep. Traveling down to Central America, forcing out leads off the record, getting confessions from high level officials, he does it all. With his ducks in a row, Gary publishes a three part expose titled “Dark Alliance”, where he publically accuses the CIA of their wrongdoings. All seems well as Gary is now the belle of the ball and every new station under the sun is sitting there shocked as they were scooped on the biggest news story in the last decade. Sooner or later the limelight starts to fade and now the competition is bitter and out for blood. Gary is subjected to personal scrutiny in both his personal life and his public life and everyone starts to call him a liar as they conclude that his sources are false or unverifiable. The movie obviously tries to portray these accusations as unfounded and the work of haters and the government trying to cover up their trail, but unfortunately every major news source turns him into a laughing stock. He’s stalked by men in black suits, his work is stolen, his life is turned upside down and now he’s writing fluff pieces off in the middle of nowhere, the journalist equivalent of being sent to an isolated post in Alaska.
A conspiracy, evil government men threatening your family, an issue that’s popular to this day as the war on drugs continues. All of this has the potential for a thrilling movie, but someone director Michael Cuestas just can’t seem to find the traction that he needs to capture the viewers’ attention. Much of the time is spent jumping from one scene to other as Gary Webb’s life unfolds. We see his family life, his search for the truth, his passion, but very little time is devoted to actually caring WHY he’s doing what he’s doing. Renner does a solid job at portraying Gary, as he tackles the task heroically. Personally I felt that Renner was miscast as he does much better at secondary characters than as a leading man, but he still does well with what he’s given and gives a straightforward, if rather bland performance. I was really shocked at the amount of talent going on in the background characters as we have Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing his boss, Olive Platt as the editor of the paper, Ray Liotta, Michael Sheen and Andy Garcia as informants, Rosemarie DeWitt as his wife, and even Robert Patrick making an appearance at the beginning of the movie. Still, the movie just couldn’t find those claws that could dig into you, as it seems to have been played a bit too soft. We have Webb jumping from location to location, but there is never any tension in the events unfolding and seems like it wants to be a documentary rather than a work of fiction. The film is not a BAD film, and actually makes for a decent watch, but as I said, it just lacks that pizazz that makes you not to want to peel your eyes from the screen.
Rated R for language and drug content
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37946[/img]““Kill the Messenger” may not be a home run in terms of the plot, but it looks amazing on Blu-ray. The opening scenes of the movie are taken from older 1980s and 1990’s TV footage and looks appropriately worn, but after those first few minutes the image clears up to looks spectacular. The movie has a very nice layer of film grain on it, a bit coarser than some, but still not overly gritty and distracting. Detail is still exceptional as you can see every little detail in the Georgia filming locations, from the bright green of the surrounding countryside, to the 80’s era carpet and wood flooring so prominent back then. The film has a teal color grading to the majority of the film, but during the time down in Nicaragua the movie looks a bit more yellow and gold tinted. Black levels maintain their nice, inky levels and there is no problem with any compression artifacts. Overall, an excellent encode.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37954[/img]Much like a majority of Universal’s recent Blu-rays that aren’t a blockbuster, we only have one audio track in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless presentation. The movie is a pretty standard dialog centric film, so you can expect the vocals to take a majority of the focus. Said vocals sound excellent and really have no flaws that I can think of besides one moment when the CIA has Gary in for questioning where I had a hard time hearing a couple of lines. Even though it’s a very dialog heavy movie, the surrounds had a few times where they got to stretch their legs. The trip down to South America had some good immersion levels and when Gary goes out on the freeway with his motorcycle all 6 channels are being used with much aplomb. THE LFE was surprisingly active as the movie’s score had a good amount of low end to try and give the movie the tension that it so desperately wanted. The aforementioned motorcycle scenes really gave us a roar on the low end and made me sit up and take notice. A good dramatic track, Universal’s 5.1 lossless experience gives a pleasing experience that fans will appreciate
• Audio Commentary with Director Michael Cuesta
• Deleted Scenes
• All-Star Cast
• Crack In America
• Filming In Georgia
“Kill the Messenger” is a decent enough thriller that seems to lack most of the “thrill” associated with that type of film. It’s mildly engaging and certainly makes for interesting dinner conversation, especially if you’re familiar with the reality of the circumstances (at least those that are known at this time) behind the issue. Universal did a bang up job with the presentation on the disc though, as it looks and sounds exceptional. While it may not be a great movie, or even a really good one, it makes for solid entertainment and is worth of a good rental.
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Oliver Platt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed By: Michael Cuesta
Written By: Peter Landesman, Gary Webb (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 112 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 10th 2015
Buy Kill the Messenger On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Skip It
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