It was a mystery that reporter Gary Webb would have jumped on: a man who'd made powerful enemies allegedly committing suicide with two gunshots to the head. The tragedy is that Webb was the deceased. Michael Cuesta's earnest, ire-inducing Kill the Messenger is a David-and-Goliath story where truth is the slingshot.
The giant is the CIA. In 1996, Webb published a thunderbolt piece in the San Jose Mercury News connecting the facts in a conspiracy that linked the government to the Nicaraguan Contras to the crack dealers of South Central Los Angeles. Yet in the two years between his piece hitting print and the government's mea culpa, Webb's career was trashed. No one threatens him or his family with violence. Instead, they destroy the man by destroying his credibility -- and to an investigative journalist, the two are the same.
Like Webb himself, Kill the Messenger is a little rumpled. The film doesn't elevate him into a hero. He's a hunter, and when his rivals scrutinize his past, he's made enough personal mistakes that he's easy to discredit. (So have we all.) In Webb's case, he has a temper, he had a mistress, and when he gets spooked by stalkers outside his house, we know enough about the news cycle to scream, "Put down that gun and look normal!"
For media junkies, Kill the Messenger plays like s&m porn -- it hurts so good. Yet, when the sting fades, so does the film. It doesn't entirely engage, in part because it's so determined to correct the story that it can't let us explore it ourselves.