Two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner (“The Bourne Legacy”) leads an all-star cast in a dramatic thriller based on the remarkable true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb. Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to the shady origins of the men who started the crack epidemic on the nation’s streets…and further alleges that the CIA was aware of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S., and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua.
The Bible's "1 Samuel" presents the legendary story of David versus Goliath about a boy, and future king of Israel, taking on the Philistine giant in battle. When no Israeli man would accept Goliath's challenge to fight, young David volunteered, taking with him only a sling and some rocks. For many, it has transcended its Biblical connotations and become an inspiring metaphor about the triumph of a small individual over enormous odds. This is not that story.
Based on the book of the same name by Nick Schou and Gary Webb's "Dark Alliance", 'Kill the Messenger' opens in 1996 when Gary (Jeremy Renner, who also produced the film) worked as an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News. His life is forever altered when a woman named Coral (Paz Vega) calls him with a tip that her boyfriend Raffie is selling tons of cocaine “for the U.S. government.”
Gary initially thinks the claim absurd, but after a conversation with federal prosecutor Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper) about his surprise witness Danillo Blandon, himself previously convicted of drug trafficking, leads to charges against Raffie being dropped, Gary becomes suspicious.
Learning that there may have been ties between the CIA and drug smugglers in order to overthrow the Sandinista government, Gary goes to Nicaragua and Washington DC. At the latter location, the most important bit of information Gary learns isn't a fact for his investigation. Instead, it's a bit of wisdom from federal bureaucrat Fred Weil (Michael Sheen) who tells him “some stories are just too true to tell.”
After the Mercury News begins printing his report, Gary is considered a hero. Many larger media outlets, some jealous that a reporter from a small paper scooped them, try to verify his story. Unfortunately for him, they can't, due in part to the story being twisted into saying that the CIA was selling drugs in America, particularly inner cities like South-Central Los Angeles. Many begin working to discredit the story and Gary while he worked to dig into deeper.
While 'Kill the Messenger' is competently made film featuring a great cast, it's slightly unsatisfying because this amazing, multi-faceted story had great potential but is turned into a standard political thriller. Peter Landesman's script moves the story along briskly, delivering plot points and character moments without wasting a scene, yet for the most part, the film progresses as if boxes are being checked off an outline for a government-conspiracy screenplay. Even if every scene actually happened, many are reminiscent of other movies and come across as if only the names have been changed. Michael Cuesta's direction also fails to elevate the material. He certainly does a satisfactory job yet never seems to do more than the minimum required. I wish he had taken more creative chances. 'Kill the Messenger' is worth watching, but the material should have resulted in a film that was mandatory watching.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Focus Features presents 'Kill the Messenger' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase slipcase along with a DVD and Digital HD copy. There are previews for “Black Sea', 'Rosewater', 'The Theory of Everything', The Man with the Iron Fists 2, and 'Nightcrawler.'
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1. Bright, saturated hues are abundant. The reds worn by residents of South Central pop and the greens of the Nicaraguan jungle foliage are lush. Cora's dress provides a vareity of color. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt has skewed the blues towards turquoise (unfortunately and unnecessarily).
Blacks are rich and contribute to an appealing contrast. Shadow delineation is also strong. A great example is the night exterior when Gary finds someone sneaking around his car. The video image comes through with sharp clarity, delivering fine texture details on display in actors' faces and their clothing. The depth of the frame comes through well. The video appeared free of any digital artifacts.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is dialogue heavy and the actors' voices always sound clear and understandable. The sound elements are balanced well together in the mix and combined they present a pleasing dynamic range. Imaging is most noticeable when an airplane roars across the front channels. The LFE gets to shine as the bass booms when a punk rock song is played during a montage.
'Kill the Messenger' is a solid thriller, but being a true story, it's hard not to wonder what more it could have been. The Blu-ray offers a mighty fine HD presentation, although the lack of extras, especially with all the information that's out there about this story, is a bit disappointing as well.