What’s a newspaper?
Middle-aged journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) isn’t necessarily the type of writer who searches for a big story, but if it ever comes his way, he’ll more than likely take the opportunity to jump on it right away. That’s why when Webb stumbles upon a lead that may take him all the way to uncovering that the CIA channeled drugs through the U.S., he gets on top of it right away, interviewing possible sources, even if that includes him taking trips out to to the villages of Nicaragua and putting his life on the line. However, Webb is a true journalist and will do anything to make his story the best possible one out there and for all of the world to see, which is exactly what happens. It gets his name known, story re-published in larger, much more respected news outlets, face on TV, and even an award for “Year’s Best Journalist”. Everything looks wonderful for Webb’s life and career, that is, until the government actually gets involved and starts putting pressure on him, as well as his news publication to stop pursuing the story any further, or else. This leaves Webb at a stand-still: Continue following the story his career was made for and lose everything he has, or, listen to what the government demands so that he can live a normal, comfortable life, like everything was before all this press? Decisions, decisions.
There’s certain movies that, to me, may speak volumes, while to others, may not at all. I understand this because while most critics out there like to say that they “have no bias” when it comes to reviewing a certain movie, from a certain creator, on a certain subject, the fact is, we are all biased. Which isn’t a problem, it’s just a fact of life that every human being has deep down inside themselves, regardless of if they want to admit or not.
The reason why I say this, is because a movie like Kill the Messenger is made exactly for me: A movie about an respectable journalist, taking place in a time when journalists truly did matter to the mainstream media, and doing what most journalists do, day in and day out. I too, am an aspiring journalist and while I do realize that the world is starting to need fewer and fewer of them, it’s still a profession I love and will continue to pursue until the day I die, regardless of if I have a job in the field or not. So yeah, as you could probably tell by my statement, that this is the movie for me.
That said, I do realize that not every movie out there that works for me, won’t work for others and while I do want to jump into this movie head-on and talk about Webb, his practice, and how he, the real-life figure, makes me happy to be an aspiring journalist, I have to judge the movie on its merits. Merits which, mind you, may be a bit fuzzy to me and my inner-bias.
Sorry, people. I’m only human, after all.
But as I was saying, Kill the Messenger is a pretty typical biopic; while it definitely tries to shy away from being by-the-notes, it hardly ever flies away from this convention and just tells its story like how it was presented to us. Which isn’t a bad thing, because if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, and such is the case here. Webb’s story, as is, is an interesting one that doesn’t need to go through any interesting, yet shocking, twists to liven things up – all it needs to do is be told to us as it was, with every bit of information known about who he was and the controversy that surrounded a good portion of his life. Sort of like an article as is, but I won’t go on any further about that!
Anyway, director Michael Cuesta, while not necessarily the most flashy director in the world, doesn’t need to be so because the strength of the movie is in the real-life story itself. Of course with most of these biopics, there’s always the wonder of how much we are seeing presented on screen is actually how it happened, or how much is just made for the sake of making the movie entertaining, but for the most part, I couldn’t find any punches pulled by Cuesta. Even if there were any, they were so thinly-done, that it was hard for me to notice and hardly ever took me away from the real strength of this movie, which was the character of Gary Webb himself. But most of all, the actor portraying him: Jeremy Renner.
By now, within in the past five years of seeing the Hurt Locker, I think the world has come to realize that Jeremy Renner is a wonderful actor that’s more than capable of handling a movie on his own (for some of us, it may have been earlier, but you know, I’m talking about the mainstream audience here, you hipsters). So for him to be involved with a biopic such as this, it made me interested in seeing just how far he could go into making us see him as somebody, and not just him playing somebody. And honestly, it’s impressive how well-suited for this role Renner is; though we don’t know all that much about Webb, the real-life person, what we see from how Renner plays him, we get the idea that he was a sweet and lovable, yet also troubled, family man. Because Renner has such a charming screen-presence, there’s an idea that he gets along with practically anybody he’s around and doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to telling it like he sees it. Which is, once again, all thanks to Renner’s wonderful performance that may not get a lot of press, but definitely should, because it’s probably his strongest since the previously-mentioned Locker.
But what Renner, as well as the movie, tells us about Webb is that he was a hard-worker, who stuck to his journalistic guns, even when it seemed like, for the well-being of everyone around him, he shouldn’t have. However, that’s what brings us to the main dilemma that the movie discusses: How far should a journalist go to pursue a story? Should they go in so deep that they practically abandon those who love and count on him/her for support? Or, should they create their story and jump off of it right before the story itself gets all sort of unwanted press? This, to some, may seem like an obvious point made by many other movies concerning the world of journalism, but to me, a fellow journalist, is a problem I struggle with everyday. Not because I myself am throwing myself right into these highly controversial stories that could put my life on the line, but more because that could definitely happen some day. A person could easily read a story of mine that they don’t like and could decide to take matters into their own hands, which, I know, sounds barbaric, but crazier things have happened, people.
But enough about me, because while I found a way to connect to this movie with my own journalist-mind intact, I think the real wonder of this movie that makes it easy for almost anybody to appreciate is that it gives a glimpse into the life of a man not many people discuss or even know about much anymore. Webb, while seeming like a slightly troubled-fella, really did love his job, but most of all, loved discovering and unraveling the truth about those in power and all of the wrong-doings they were committed. Which is why it’s sad to see not just his family begin to bail on him once this story gets too hot, but also his publication that doesn’t want to be involved with a journalist who may, or may not be, good for their image.
It says something about journalism as a whole, but also says something about how this man, Gary Webb, truly did want people to know that he was telling the truth just about every step of the way. But that it only takes a few of those in power, to be angry, and make sure that whatever skeletons they have in their closet, stays put. It sucks, but it’s a reality and it was inspiring to see someone like Webb stand up for himself, even when it was the riskiest choice he could make.
Even if I was the only one who felt it.
Consensus: Kill the Messenger isn’t just a testament to the legend of Gary Webb and his journalistic pursuit to discovering the truth, but also to journalism as a whole, and presents plenty of strong questions, with hardly any answers. The way it’s supposed to be told.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images