Kill the Messenger (2014 film)

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Kill the Messenger
Kill the Messenger poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Cuesta
Produced by
Written byPeter Landesman
Based onKill the Messenger
by Nick Schou
Dark Alliance
by Gary Webb
Music byNathan Johnson
CinematographySean Bobbitt
Edited byBrian A. Kates
  • Bluegrass Films
  • The Combine
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • October 10, 2014 (2014-10-10)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[2]
Box office$6.7 million[2]

Kill the Messenger is a 2014 American biographical crime thriller film directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Peter Landesman. It is based on the book of the same name by Nick Schou and the book Dark Alliance by Gary Webb. The film stars Jeremy Renner, who also produced the film. The film was released on October 10, 2014,[3] and depicts a reporter's suppressed attempts to cover the CIA involvement and secret support of large scale cocaine sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.


The film opens in 1996, as San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb interviews drug dealer Ronny Quail, who is outraged that the government used civil asset forfeiture to keep his house even after he was acquitted. Webb's ensuing article about the abuses of forfeiture garners repeated phone calls from a woman named Coral, whom he agrees to meet when she says she has documents that prove the government sponsored cocaine sales in the U.S. Coral gives Webb a transcript of grand jury testimony (normally kept secret) which was accidentally released to her boyfriend, an accused drug dealer, during discovery. After Webb reveals to the prosecutor in the case that he has the transcript, the government drops the charges against Coral's boyfriend in order to protect their main witness: Oscar Danilo Blandón.

After Webb researches Blandón and comes across the pending case of "Freeway" Rick Ross, he is stunned to learn that Blandón is a paid informant. Armed with this knowledge, Ross' attorney elicits from Blandón his sworn testimony outlining the CIA's alleged involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking—that the CIA actively supported Blandón and his partners’ smuggling of cocaine into the U.S. and used the profits to benefit the Nicaraguan Contras.

Webb travels to a prison in Managua and speaks to Blandón's partner, Norwin Meneses, who confirms Oliver North's involvement in the basic "drugs for guns" scheme to use profits from cocaine trafficking to fund the Contras. In Washington, D.C., Webb tracks down Fred Weil, a National Security Council employee who was an investigator on the Kerry Committee report, which touched on the same issues. Like many other people that Webb speaks to, Weil warns him that the subject may put him in danger. For good measure, federal agents summon Webb to a meeting where they warn him against publishing what he has learned.

The paper publishes Webb's story as a three-part series with the title "Dark Alliance"; it is an immediate sensation. Humiliated by being scooped by a regional paper, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The New York Times all dig into Webb's reporting. Webb views their follow-up reporting as being far too deferential to the CIA. Eventually, their reporting turns to Webb himself, including an affair he had while working at the Plain Dealer.

Webb is banished to the newspaper's Cupertino bureau to cover mundane local news. However, he continues to work on the story. He is awoken in his motel room one night by John Cullen, who is precisely the kind of CIA source with direct knowledge of the scheme that Webb's reporting needs. Webb's exhilaration at finding Cullen is quickly dampened when the paper reveals its plans to write an open letter calling into question aspects of its "Dark Alliance" reporting. At a Society of Professional Journalists dinner honoring Webb as the Bay Area "Journalist of the Year", he submits his resignation to his editors. An epilogue reveals that in 2004 Gary Webb was found dead in his apartment, shot twice in the head. His death was ruled a suicide.



On March 5, 2014, Focus Features announced that the film would be released on October 10, 2014.[3]


Principal photography began on July 16, 2013 in several Georgia locations, including Atlanta, Cobb County and Decatur.[4][5]


Nathan Johnson composed the score for the film,[6] and Back Lot Music release a soundtrack album on October 7, 2014.[7]


Kill the Messenger received a regional theatrical release by Focus Features on October 10, 2014.[3][2]


Box office[edit]

Kill the Messenger grossed $2.5 in the United States and Canada, and $4.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $6.7 million, against a production budget of 5 million. Sales of its DVD/Blu-ray releases cashed $3.3 million.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film has received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a "Certified Fresh" rating of 77%, based on 131 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The site's consensus reads, "Kill the Messenger's potent fury over the tale of its real-life subject overrides its factual inaccuracies and occasional narrative stumbles."[8] On Metacritic, the film currently has a rating of 60 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]

Controversy over film distribution[edit]

Several weeks after the Kill the Messenger premiere, the significant lack of advertising for the film and its rapid retraction from theaters led to the creation of a petition to re-release the film in theaters on November 24, 2014 through, entitled "Focus Features: Support Gary Webb and Re-Release Kill the Messenger in Theaters."[10]

This petition was also spurred on after Focus Features failed to attend a private screening for the film hosted by the Writers Guild of America in mid-November, despite positive reviews for the film. Through the petition and direct appeals to Focus Features, attention was drawn to the fact that the film distribution company aired more national television commercials for Kill the Messenger six weeks after the premiere date than they did before the film was released in theaters, and almost exclusively outside of primetime hours and off of major broadcasting companies.[11]

As a result of this marketing campaign, the highest domestic television coverage for Kill the Messenger occurred when it had been retracted from all but 18 theaters in the United States and three weeks before its theatrical run was ended.[10][11] Attention was also drawn to the large discrepancy in the amount of television advertising that Focus Features gave to each of its fall releases, specifically between Kill the Messenger, which was given a total of 448 national advertisements, to Theory of Everything, which was nationally aired 3,046 times and largely on major television networks (i.e., ABC, NBC, CBS, MTV).[11][12]

The petition picked up a strong momentum through social media, accruing over 2,000 signatures in less than two weeks. [13][14][15] The weekend of December 5, Focus Features expanded Kill the Messenger to 19 additional theaters, for a sum of 27 theaters overall.[10]

On December 11, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment announced the DVD release date for Kill the Messenger, several days before the petition reached 2,500 signatures.[16]

In early February, Kill the Messenger was leaked online, and was reportedly among the top ten films with the most unauthorized downloads for several weeks.[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awarding Body Category Recipients Result
2014 Women Film Critics Circle Best Actor Jeremy Renner Nominated
Best Male Images in a Movie Jeremy Renner, Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Robert Patrick, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Lucas Hedges, Josh Close, Ray Liotta Nominated
2014 Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Joe Barber Award-Best Portrayal of Washington D.C. Michael Cuesta, Jeremy Renner, Don Handfield, Peter Landesman, Michael Bederman, Sean Babbit Nominated
2014 James Agee Cinema Circle [18] Best Progressive Picture Michael Cuesta, The Combine Won
Robeson Award Michael Cuesta, The Combine Won
Best Actor Jeremy Renner Won
2015 Georgia Film Critics Association Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema Michael Cuesta, Peter Landesman Won
2015 Golden Trailer Awards [19] Most Original Poster Focus Features, Ignition Won
2015 Traverse City Film Festival Best American Film Michael Cuesta Won
2015 Whistle Blower Summit for Civil & Human Rights [20] Pillar Award for Best Whistle Blower Film Michael Cuesta Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kill the Messenger (15)". British Board of Film Classification. February 10, 2015. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Kill the Messenger (2014) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Cunningham, Todd (March 5, 2014). "Jeremy Renner's 'Kill the Messenger' Gets Fall Release Date". Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  4. ^ "Jeremy Renner movie, 'Kill the Messenger', filming in Decatur, GA". July 16, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  5. ^ ""Kill The Messenger" films in east Cobb and downtown". July 16, 2013. Archived from the original on July 18, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  6. ^ "Nathan Johnson Scoring 'Kill the Messenger'". March 31, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  7. ^ "'Kill the Messenger' Soundtrack Details". October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  8. ^ "Kill the Messenger". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  9. ^ "Kill the Messenger Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  10. ^ a b c "Kill the Messenger". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c "Kill the Messenger TV Movie Trailer". Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  12. ^ "Theory of Everything TV Movie Trailer". Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  13. ^ "Feature: Hollywood Snubs Movie Depicting How US Authorities Contributed to the Crack & Cocaine Epidemics, Harming Urban Communities". AfroPunk. January 20, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  14. ^ "Kill the Messenger Twitter". Twitter. November 24, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  15. ^ "Gary Webb Has Been Suppressed AGAIN!!! Help Petition Focus Features to Stop Burying his "Kill the Messenger" Biopic!". Reddit. November 26, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  16. ^ "From Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: Kill The Messenger". PRNewswire. December 11, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  17. ^ "TOP 10 MOST PIRATED MOVIES OF THE WEEK-– 02/02/15". Torrent Freak. February 2, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  18. ^ "The Anti-Oscars 2014: The James Agee Cinema Cinema Circle Awards". James Agee Cinema Circle. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  19. ^ "2015 Golden Trailer Awards Winners Revealed". slashFilm. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  20. ^ "Whistle Blower Summit for Civil & Human Rights". Whistle Blower Summit for Civil & Human Rights. Retrieved July 7, 2015.

External links[edit]