“Kill the Messenger” has two major assets, only one of which it fully utilizes. The first is lead actor Jeremy Renner, who plays Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb. The second is Webb’s story, about a man who investigated the crack epidemic in America and whose life was threatened when he found that the CIA, among others in Washington, D.C., were responsible for smuggling cocaine into the country.
Renner’s performance has been praised by many as his best since “The Hurt Locker,” playing the compulsive, righteous but flawed and temperamental Webb in a portrait that’s more nuanced than the film around him. Most critics have voiced their disappointment that the film idealizes Webb, seeing him as a crusading hero rather than a man who stood something to gain (at least initially) from his investigations. The film also downplays Webb’s paranoia and his suicide in 2004, using it as a way to turn him into a martyr rather than a complicated man who’d overstepped his bounds. As it is, Renner kills, but the movie doesn’t.
“Kill the Messenger” hits theaters October 10.
Chris Cabin, Slant Magazine
Even when addressing Webb’s shortcomings, Cuesta can’t help but express an idealistic worship of his subject, such as Ian’s quickly mended revelation of his father’s adultery. The attention paid to the smear campaign that tainted him, rendered him helpless, and likely contributed to his suicide in 2004 only goes to emboss Cuesta’s vision of Webb as an underdog hero. To an extent, that’s a fitting title for Webb, but this perspective waters down the complexity of his persona, which is to say that it simplifies the mind and manner of a man who clearly thrived off of personal, historical, governmental, and societal challenges. Read more.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Jesse Hassenger, The A.V. Club
Little of “Kill The Messenger” transcends innate familiarity. Director Michael Cuesta hustles through the story at a decent clip, generating tension and using frequent following shots to put the audience on the trail along with Webb. But his movie lacks a point of view beyond the vindication of its subject. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
But Renner exists above the limited scope of the narrative. His steely-eyed expression hints at a dangerous fixation on following each lead even as his professional stability evaporates around him. He’s so keyed into Webb’s conundrum that by the time we see the face of the actual subject at the movie’s conclusion, he’s already familiar to us. Read more.
Matt Singer, The Dissolve
“Kill The Messenger’s” ultimate message—that sometimes there’s nothing more dangerous than the truth—is one it probably could have handled a little more carefully itself. Cuesta is serving two masters here: his film and its real-life subject. At times, he sacrifices the former’s overall impact in order to better vindicate the latter. What remains compelling, even through the movie’s missteps, is Renner. Read more.
Amy Nicholson, The Village Voice
For media junkies, “Kill the Messenger” plays like s&m porn — it hurts so good. Yet, when the sting fades, so does the film. It doesn’t entirely engage, in part because it’s so determined to correct the story that it can’t let us explore it ourselves. When Webb gets paranoid and starts sounding crazy, the film doesn’t allow us to ask if he’s gone overboard. Read more.
Rodrigo Perez, The Wrap
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
Seeing as how “Kill the Messenger” comes down firmly on the side of Webb’s truth, it’s unfortunate that his discoveries are only confirmed via the end credits. Missing from the action, too, is the merest hint of our hero’s demise by suicide in 2004. These aspects should have been better showcased; as is, it’s not the whole story. Read more.