From the last week of September 2014 through the first week of October, Examiner Dorri Olds was able to land interviews with Jeremy Renner, Michael K. Williams, Lucas Hedges, director Michael Cuesta and writer Peter Landesman. Every one of them commented on their admiration and compassion for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Webb who is played by Renner in the true crime thriller, “Kill the Messenger.”
Webb is a journalist who uncovered a shocking story that linked the CIA to Nicaragua smugglers who were transporting large amounts of cocaine into the United States. The U.S. government officials also looked the other way while the drug sales funded weapons for the Contras. Webb reported that the Reagan administration protected the inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to help the Contras after Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which prohibited direct Contra funding.
The huge influx of cocaine is what led to the 1980s crack epidemic. When Webb and his reporting became a threat to those involved, he was threatened; his family was threatened. Webb was ridiculed and accused of making the story up. He lost his job, his family, and ultimately his life.
Webb was found dead from two bullet to the head and it was ruled a suicide. Plenty of people have had their doubts. How does a man shoot himself in the head twice?
Landesman meticulously researched and wrote the riveting screenplay based on Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series of articles published by the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. “There is no controversy for me,” said Landesman, “Gary absolutely committed suicide. Conspiracy theorists will have it otherwise but the reality is Gary was unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even his wife is sure he killed himself.”
“I felt like it was time to tell this story,” said director Cuesta. “I related to Gary Webb and why he did what he did. He was passionate about journalism. He believed in good guys and bad guys and telling the truth. To have people turn on him the way they did was such an ultimate betrayal.”
Renner talked about ways he could relate to Webb, “Yeah, even though we are very different the parallels are tenacity and perseverance and passion for what we do. One is very selfless and one is very selfish. Unfortunately I’m on the selfish side. He’s an amazing human. Really, really smart. I have a lot to learn from him.”
Williams, who plays drug trafficker Ricky “Freeway” Ross has a lot of empathy for people who go down the wrong road. “I think the drug dealer gets a bad rap in society. Last I checked they don’t grow cocoa leaves in the hood so where’s it coming from? I’m not making excuses because we still have choices. But if you take a man like Rick Ross who was allowed to float through the Los Angeles school system without being taught to read or write. He excelled in tennis and there were scholarships on the table for him to become a tennis player but when they found out he was illiterate, it was all snatched away. So, you have an 18-year-old young black male in the inner city, under-serviced communities of Los Angeles, no education, no money, no job opportunities and then the streets are flooded with crack cocaine and crime, what would you do?”
The powerful cast of “Kill the Messenger” also includes Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Tim Blake Nelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paz Vega, Barry Pepper, Lucas Hedges and a cameo by Ray Liotta.
Go see this movie. It’s a winner.
“Kill the Messenger” opens in New York City and nationwide on Oct. 10, 2014. Crime thriller drama. Rated R. 112 min.