Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Oliver Platt, Robert Patrick, Paz Vega, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen, Gil Bellows, Richard Schiff, Ray Liotta
Written by: Peter Landesman, based on a book by Gary Webb, and on a book by Nick Schou
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
MPAA Rating: R for language and drug content
Running Time: 112
Date: 10/10/2014
IMDB

Kill the Messenger (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Scoop Dog

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Cuesta's Kill the Messenger takes on dense material, and for the most part makes it feel important without feeling heavy or overstuffed. First, it provides a biographical portrait of reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who wrote for the San Jose Mercury News and committed suicide in 2004. Second, it chronicles Webb's biggest story, published in 1996, asserting that, in the 1980s, the CIA used profits from crack cocaine sold on the streets of Los Angeles to back the Contras in the war in Nicaragua. Third, it follows Webb's downfall, not at the hands of the CIA, but at the hands of other journalists.

Renner is magnetic, handling Webb's personal dilemmas, reporting skill, and professional outrage with grace under pressure. A series of potent, small performances by Paz Vega, Michael Sheen, Tim Blake Nelson, Ray Liotta and others add potent doses of flavor. Yet it's not all talking heads; director Cuesta (L.I.E., TV's Homeland) juggles ideas and drama with an even-handed realism and observation, allowing for visual expressions, and even moments of quiet reflection, to seep in. And, where a less skilled filmmaker would have turned in a bloated 3-hour film, Cuesta does it all in a remarkable 112 minutes. It's fresh enough to be hot off the presses.

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