Jeremy Renner is Killer in Kill the Messenger

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Jeremy Renner stars in Kill the Messenger, opening 10/10/2014

I tend to avoid pre-release publicity and trailers because I want to be surprised. I skimmed the press screening synopsis and saw the words, “Kill,” “Jeremy Renner,” “and “CIA.” My cursory glance at the press invite and the film’s title had me thinking action flick. It isn’t. It’s a thinking man’s thriller, a “JFK” for this generation. Michael Cuesta, more noted for directing episodes of Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homeland than for film, has crafted a masterpiece of political intrigue and the cutthroat world of American mass media with “Kill the Messenger,” but I’m afraid it may not fare as well as it should in the box office. As Jack Nicholson famously said in “A Few Good Men,” “You can’t handle the truth!” I’m looking at you, America.

“Kill the Messenger” is the story of Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner, who is going to win a Best Actor Oscar one of these days—he’s not just an action star, he really is a heck of an actor), a hot shot reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who broke the story of the CIA being directly involved in smuggling Nicaraguan cocaine into Los Angles and other major urban population centers in the U.S. to support the Contra rebels. After a brief moment of fame and acclaim, Webb’s life starts to collapse under the pressure of fending off attacks from larger newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times. These attacks called into question the accuracy or his reports, discredited his sources and took shots at his personal life, raising the specter of past indiscretions and causing tensions at home with his wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt). His editors, Anna Simmons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt), became less supportive and ultimately Webb found himself essentially blacklisted from the only career he ever wanted.

This great country of ours was founded on basic inalienable rights (who those rights applied to then and now is a whole other story for another time). These rights include the freedom of speech. Filmmakers can make almost anything they want, even films that cast our own government as the bad guy. That’s not a right shared by North Korean, Chinese or many Middle Eastern filmmakers. In some places you could be imprisoned or killed for presenting the type of subject matter “Kill the Messenger” tackles. In America, if you get too close the truth, the government just finds something else to nail you on—taxes usually—while your rivals pick you apart. Spoiler alert, even though it is a matter of public record: Webb was proven right. The American government couldn’t shut up him even if they wanted to. That’s how films like this get made, but not why they get overlooked.

Oliver Stone’s “JFK” has some Hollywood fabrications to be sure, but the point holds true still today: you’d have to be an idiot to believe that President Kennedy was shot by one single bullet fired at a moving target and from the book depository in Dealey Plaza. And yet that’s the line our government, of the people, by the people and for the people, would have you believe. Mythbusters “proved” it was plausible, so it must be true, right? Stone was probably more right than we’ll ever know. Webb certainly was too. The CIA eventually admitted to it, timing the announcement with the height of the President Clinton/Monica Lewinski affair. Nobody paid attention to it. The country should have been outraged that its own government was directly complicit in starting the drug epidemic that every President since Richard Nixon has vowed to wage war on. Instead they were outraged that a sitting President would have extramarital affairs in the White House. Please stop. Some African Americans can trace their ancestry to Thomas Jefferson. Clinton wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, but while you’re busy worrying about yet another issue that doesn’t affect you one bit the government is reading your emails, your texts, listening to you phone calls, and getting you hooked on crack in the name of National Security. That’s the way it’s been since the days of Rome—give the people bread and circuses so they don’t notice what their government is really up to. It amazes me that it still works today.

Yet it still does work, very well in fact. You’ll likely take the kids to see “The Boxtrolls” or enjoy some quiet time while your teens head out to “Dracula Untold” and they’re both fun films in their own way. “Kill the Messenger” isn’t fun in the Hollywood blockbuster sense, but it’s vitally important and you need to see it. If it doesn’t make you mad and cause you to think twice about everything that our government and the press tell you, well, enjoy your bread and circuses. They’ve already programmed the majority of the population to have Attention Deficit Disorder—how could you not under the 24 hour news cycle? Look over here! There’s a Kardashian in tacky pants! No wait—that guy from 7th Heaven may have committed suicide! McRibs are back and…oh, hold on, the 7th Heaven guy is alive but now he may be a child molester! He should work for the NFL--that’s one of the few crimes an NFL player hasn’t committed yet this year! Let’s burn down a QuikTrip in outrage! Oops, can’t tonight, Game of Thrones or Dr. Who or the travesty that is Thursday Night Football is on tonight and 7th Heaven re-runs won’t be because who could still enjoy that wholesome show now? We must purify television for our children, so we’ll put an end to entertaining and often educational Saturday morning cartoons and we’ll fill that time with live action dramas starring kids who may die of a drug overdose before Keith Richards or Ozzy Osbourne does! Look who’s fabulous at the awards show! Look at all these [expletive] Tweets and “Hashtags” scrolling across my screen, even on news programs, because who needs facts as long as they’re first! Black is the new red, which was last year’s blue, and if you aren’t reading this on a product with a bitten apple logo on it you’re a loser, but if you’re a grown man who loves My Little Pony that’s cool, because we made up a new word just for that! BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! NOW HOW MUCH WILL YOU PAY?!?

You can’t even begin to comprehend what the government just did, and you don’t care, because you can’t handle the truth. Those of you who demand more honesty in your life will be thinking about “Kill the Messenger” for days afterward. I doubt it’ll be enough to keep this film in theaters long enough to get the message across to enough people, or that enough people truly care. Who needs truth when you have apathy?

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0