Where does ambition meet prudence? Courage meet sacrifice? Truth meet irrelevance? These are ugly questions, and what happened to journalist Gary Webb is ugly business. Very ugly business indeed.
“Kill the Messenger” recounts Webb’s experience after he, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, happens into information ultimately leading to his exposure of the CIA’s direct role in the crack epidemic of the 1980′s. His 3-part series, entitled “Dark Alliance”, skyrocketed him from unknown at a small-market newspaper to celebrated reporter of national attention and renown… until that same light shone too brightly on the CIA, at which point the light turned vicious and allies proved themselves fair-weather. Very ugly business indeed.
I still remember a Peanuts greeting card I spotted decades ago. It featured Lucy on the cover, “If you’re calm, cool, and collected while everyone else around you is losing their head…” [open card] “… perhaps you don’t fully understand the situation.”
It’s a bitter irony, as arguably such is the situation into which Gary Webb boldly went. Lacking the connections and perspective of a New York Times or Washington Post reporter, Webb certainly found himself a small fish in not a big pond, but an ocean filled with sharks.
But limited or not, Webb was on the track and possessed all the courage and tenacity we could hope for in our press. As the light turned to heat, sunburned D.C. player Fred Weil warned him that, “Some stories are just too true to tell.” And as Webb became increasingly “controversialized,” Weil’s words come to haunt us all.
As a production, “Kill the Messenger” bites off a bit more than it can chew, lacking the time to explore the full societal impact and connect the dots to the Iran-Contra scandal several years prior. It makes an admirable effort as part of the opening credits sequence, but it’s too attenuated to bring today’s viewers, many of whom were in utero at the time, properly up to speed. That said, enough context is established that the scope of the events comes quite clear, and the most critical points receive all the light they deserve.
“Kill the Messenger” represents the best of why we have movies: they lay down stories that may otherwise be lost to history, memorialized in books likely unread in wide reach in today’s hyperspeed world. They enlighten us to people and events that shape our personal world, give us context, and point us in directions worthy of exploration.
Gary Webb may have been hung out to dry, but his story – in its fullness – has been told. Jeremy Renner honors him quite beautifully indeed, portraying him with all heart and guts that Webb himself no doubt possessed.
One has to wonder if he would’ve been Woodward & Bernstein in another era… or if they would be Gary Webb today. It chills me to think that the latter may be the more likely.
See this film. It may be overly ambitious, but it’s a stellar call to keep a clear head about what we see – er, rather, are given to see – in the media.
Story: The true story of journalist Gary Webb, who suffered a vicious smear campaign after exposing the CIA’s role in the crack epidemic of the 1980′s in support of the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua.
Genre: Drama, Suspense/Thriller, Biography
Themes: Ambition, Betrayal, Courage, Ethics, Honesty, Initiation (Innocence vs. Experience), Justice, Legacy, Loss, Man vs. Man, Self-Confidence, Self-Respect, Social Concern and Change, Vengeance
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Dan Futterman, Robert Patrick, Richard Schiff, Yul Vazquez, Lucas Hedges
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
Running time: 112 minutes
Houston release date: October 10, 2014
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or your local listings
Screened Oct 8 2014 at the Edwards Marq*E theater in Houston TX