Parents' Guide to

Kill the Messenger

By S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Tense journalism thriller examines CIA-Contra scandal.

Movie R 2014 112 minutes
Kill the Messenger Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 13+

Based on 1 parent review

age 13+

Renner is terrific, and the film is surprisingly objective.

My biggest concern going into this is that it would be like The Fifth Estate all over again. That movie had some great performances, but its lack of priorities and direction screamed "made for TV." Kill the Messenger has the same problem for about the first four minutes. The title sequences are overt and the music is like something from a Lifetime movie, but then the direction becomes subtle and brisk. The pacing is picks up around the 20-minute mark and becomes strong, and the script is surprisingly objective, mostly refraining from vilifying or deifying Gary Webb. They say in the film that truth isn't a black or white issue, and they actual stick to that school of thought. It's only the final ten minutes or so that decide that Webb is an amazing person. It's not that saying that is necessarily a bad thing, but the sudden change in voice is a bit noticeable. The acting, however, is solid throughout. Jeremy Renner is terrific and is given far more to do than any of his work in the Marvel movies. It's not like I would say his performance is on the level of Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man earlier this year (their subject matters and characters are somewhat similar, allowing comparisons), but I hope that he follows through with more roles like this in the future. And regarding the rest of the cast, I'm surprisingly that even they're good. Even the teenage son is good, and the father-son relationship doesn't seem contrived. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great as always. Despite the film's occasionally inconsistent narrative, this is surprisingly good. It seems to be elevated a fair amount by its cast, but the direction is far above something like The Fifth Estate. There are some bits shown in the film that don't seem to do much and the final minute seems to rely on text screens and archival footage to wrap up plot points, but I still found myself invested. 7.5/10, good, one thumb up, above average, etc.

This title has:

Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1):
Kids say (1):

Jeremy Renner is an actor with incredible access to his intensity, and it's primarily because of him that KILL THE MESSENGER delivers. When he seethes, his entire person seethes. When he glowers, all of him does. And when he's in pain, as in one scene involving a car, the entire audience can feel his pain fly off the cinematic frame. Through him, we get to know a journalist wholly committed to the mission that many others in his field cite as their raison d'etre: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But as the film shows, it's a mission that many have forgotten. Fear and complacency drive decision making. And some in the news business seem all too willing to ignore one story for a juicier or -- in Webb's case, given that the other option was to take on the CIA and the government -- an easier one. Kill the Messenger tells its story with lots of energy; the camera moves as quickly as Webb does. And when it slows down, as in one scene toward the end involving an escalator, there's a foreboding, confining shift to the pace. (The direction in that particular scene is inspired.) The script is sometimes prone to heavy handedness, unnecessary given its already dramatic material. But Kill the Messenger will leave viewers wondering about the changing nature of journalism and of truth in general -- and how complicit we all are in clouding the truth, whether in big or small ways.

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