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Kill the Messenger Captures the Recent Past

  • October 09, 2014

Director Michael Cuesta (Tell Tale, Roadie) and director of photography Sean Bobbitt, BSC (12 Years a Slave) aimed to shoot things right with Kill the Messenger, a dramatic thriller based on the remarkable true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb.

In the 1990s, Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) searched from the prisons of California to the villages of Nicaragua to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., for the hidden truth behind a complex, international drug smuggling network. His investigative reporting drew the kind of attention that threatened not just his career, but his family and his life.

“I’ve always been drawn to difficult subject matter or, as some put it, dark stories,” remarks Cuesta. “I just find that the stories that are harder to take are the ones that are the most healing and illuminating; I’m always looking for that light in the dark. As a filmmaker, if you’re going to spend two years of your life on telling one story, it better be worth the time and heartache that goes into making a movie.”

Cuesta worked closely with Bobbitt to orient the audience perception to Gary’s gaining, or seeking to gain, forbidden access. The cinematographer would often circle an unfolding scene with a handheld camera, as Cuesta encouraged him to emulate the viewer’s perspective – but as if in the same room as the characters.

Bobbitt reveals, “We shot this movie on film, which gives a gravitas and scale that can be missing on digital. Because of the texture, film also gives Kill the Messenger a feel which felt right and believable for this story of recent history – it was already the last century, yet it was less than 20 years ago.”

The cinematographer adds, “There’s warmth throughout the first third of the film. The Webb family’s home is a classic California ranch house; it’s lush and inviting, with rich colors of sea grass and buckwheat. When Gary ventures out of his comfort zone and gets enmeshed in things on a national and international level, more cool colors are introduced and the comforting California colors bleed out and disappear.”

Kill the Messenger begins rolling out in theaters in October.