Kill the Messenger

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Kill the Messenger Movie Poster Image
Tense journalism thriller examines CIA-Contra scandal.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The truth will out, especially for those who seek it persistently. But sadly, there's often a cost. Also, personal integrity sometimes will force you to take a stand that may seem unpopular or controversial.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gary is persistent, determined, unafraid of criticism, and fearless when it comes to pursuing stories. He's also a communicative parent who's willing to discuss difficult issues with both his oldest son and his wife. The editor he works for, Anna, is principled, but doesn't always have his back professionally.


Scenes are more sinister or seamy than violent (at one point, Gary visits a government office and subtly but clearly receives a verbal threat against his family), except for one moment when Gary and another man kneel with their hands over their heads, threatened by gun-toting strangers. News footage shows people fighting in the street and cops roughing up suspects in arrests. In a fit of despair, fear, and frustration, a man punches a car window, wounding his hand. He also fires a gun one night to scare off what he thinks is an intruder.


A husband and wife flirt and hint at fooling around. A woman in a deep-cut dress shows off her cleavage and kisses a man on the cheek.


Quite strong, especially in times of anger and distress. Words include "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn," "f--k" and "motherf--ker."


Some labels/products seen: Jeep, Camaro, and lots of newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Los Angeles Times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking (beer, wine) and brief newsreel scenes showing addicts smoking crack. Many scenes of cigarette smoking. A man downs nearly half a bottle of pain meds, and it's presumed he'll be driving later.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kill the Messenger is a troubling, engrossing, and memorable thriller based on the life of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), the San Jose Mercury News reporter who first reported the link between drug smuggling, the CIA, and the funding of the Contras in Nicaragua and was first lauded and then denounced for it. The film deals with serious material and makes use of real news footage depicting crack addicts and the human toll of the Nicaraguan civil war. There's plenty of swearing ("s--t," "a--hole," "f--k," and more), brief moments of violence (two men are threatened by a group of men armed with guns, for instance), social drinking, smoking, and a frank portrayal of how one man's life unspooled in the face of extreme pressures.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byB-KMastah October 12, 2014

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... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old April 26, 2019

Mature kids can handle this movie

This is a great movie with mature themes, but if your kid already knows about drugs and swearing and can handle disturbing context, this movie s a must. Boring... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1996, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a reporter working in the San Jose Mercury News' Sacramento bureau, stumbled on a story about a drug dealer whose assets were seized, which led him to an even bigger journalistic fish: the CIA's involvement in drug smuggling and gun-running in Nicaragua. It's an explosive discovery, one with significant criminal, political, and sociological implications. But as soon as Webb reaps the plaudits, the attacks begin. And not just from those he's writing about, some of whom are as sinister as they come. But from within his industry, too: Did he report his articles correctly? Why doesn't he have more sources on record? How did a reporter in a small bureau nab one of the biggest stories of the decade? His marriage to his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), still delicate after a struggle, begins to unravel, and his editors (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Oliver Platt) start backing away, leaving Webb alone to weather the pressure and the isolation.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Gary Webb pursued a story that put him and his family under the microscope and within sights of dangerous criminals. Was he committed to doing his job right, or was it irresponsible (or perhaps a mix of both)? If you were him, would you do the same?

  • How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers change some details of true stories when making a movie?

  • Talk to your kids about the real-life events depicted in the movie. How could you find out more about the things Webb was reporting on?

  • How does the movie depict drinking and smoking? Are there realistic consequences?

  • Does a movie have to be violent to be scary or intense? What makes something a thriller?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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