What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!
Last night, if you were awake and unable to get any sleep at 1:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2014 conspiracy thriller, Kill The Messenger.
Kill The Messenger opens with one of those title cards that assures us that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story. We are then introduced to Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a California-based reporter who we know is a rebel because he has a precisely trimmed goatee. Gary is interviewing a suspected drug smuggler (Robert Patrick) at the smuggler’s luxurious mansion. Suddenly, the DEA storms the house, shouting insults and roughly throwing everyone to the ground, including Gary. It’s actually exciting and promising opening, one that perfectly establishes both Gary as a truth seeker and the U.S. government as an invading army that’s fighting a war that’s full of collateral damage.
Gary, of course, has nothing to do with smuggling drugs. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he was treated unfairly by the DEA, it’s just because the government is serious about winning the war on drugs!
Or is it?
Following up on a tip, Gary comes across evidence that, in order to raise money for pro-Amercian rebels in Central America, the CIA not only helped to smuggle drugs into the U.S. but also arranged for the drugs to largely be sold in poor, minority neighbors where, in theory, no one would notice or care.
When the story is finally published, Gary is briefly a celebrity. Not surprisingly, the government denies his accusations and start tying to discredit him. However, Gary also finds himself being targeted by his fellow journalists. Angry over being outscooped by a relatively unknown reporter, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both launch their own investigations. Instead of investigating Gary’s allegations, they jealously and viciously investigate Gary himself.
Soon, both Gary’s career and his family are falling apart and Gary finds himself growing more and more paranoid…
Remember when everyone was expecting Kill The Messenger to be a really big deal? It was due to come out towards the end of 2014, right in the middle of Oscar season. Jeremy Renner was being talked up as a contender for best actor. Then the film came out, it played in a handful of theaters for a week or two, and then it sunk into obscurity. Some commentators even complained that Focus Features buried the release of Kill The Messenger and that the film was ignored because of its leftist politics…
Of course, it’s just as probable that Focus Features realized that The Theory of Everything was more likely to charm audiences than a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic.
Or it could have just been that, despite telling a potentially intriguing story, Kill The Messenger was an oddly bland film. Other than one scene in which he admits to cheating on his wife, Gary Webb is portrayed as being such a saint that it actually causes the film to lose credibility. (Don’t get me wrong. For all I know, he was a saint. But, from a cinematic point of view, sainthood is never compelling.) This is one of those earnest films that gets so heavy-handed that, even if you agree with what the movie is saying, you still resent being manipulated. (Of course, some of us have grown so cynical about the media that we automatically doubt the veracity any movie that opens with those dreaded words: “Based on a true story.”) Watching Kill The Messenger, one gets the feeling that a documentary about Gary Webb would probably be more compelling (and convincing) than a fictionalized dramatization.
(Unfortunately, if you think it’s difficult to get an audience to watch a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic, just try to get them to watch a documentary about … well, anything. I know most of our readers would probably happily watch a documentary but that’s because y’all are the best and a thousand times better than the average person. Love you!)
Here’s what did work about Kill The Messenger: the performances. Jeremy Renner, who also produced this film, gives an excellent performance as Gary, especially in the scenes where he realizes that both the government and the press are now conspiring about him. Rosemarie DeWitt has the traditionally thankless role of being the supportive wife but she still does a good job. And finally, Ray Liotta shows up for one scene and is absolutely chilling in that way that only Ray Liotta can be.
Kill The Messenger doesn’t quite work but, thanks to the cast, it is, at the very least, a watchable misfire.
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