Drugs, government, truths, mustaches. “Kill the Messenger” is an admirable journalism thriller that takes on a lot of big subjects. The movie, based on a true story, lacks the emotional resonance of similarly themed films such as “All the President’s Men” and “The Insider,” but it’s a story worth telling, even if all the pieces aren’t there.

Jeremy Renner is driven as Gary Webb, a San Jose Mercury News reporter who uncovers ties between the CIA, conflicts in Nicaragua and the inner-city drug epidemic of the 1980s. His reporting makes him a target of both shadowy government figures and rival reporters who poke holes in his story. Webb’s search for the truth leaves him professionally abandoned and personally tormented, which ultimately leads to his downfall.

Director Michael Cuesta, who has helmed episodes of TV’s “Homeland” and “Dexter,” takes on the true story like a reporter tying strings between mugshots and maps on a large wall (you know, like reporters do in the movies — including this one). He makes the connections, but the moments in-between lack fire, and his story lacks insight into the man at its center.

The sizable supporting cast does fine work, especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Webb’s supportive but cautious editor. Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, Barry Pepper, Ray Liotta and Oliver Platt also do good work in small roles, and Andy Garcia has fun as an incarcerated drug smuggler.

“Kill the Messenger” focuses on Webb’s reporting of the scandal and its fallout, though title cards at the end paint a bigger picture of what could have been. It’s a journalism movie that betrays one of the fundamental rules of journalism: It buries the lead.

‘Kill the Messenger’


Rated R for language and drug content

Running time: 112 minutes

Read or Share this story: