Kill the Messenger unfurls, with a heavy dose of suspense, the disturbing, true story of journalist Gary Webb. Though packed with stars like Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Rosemarie DeWitt and Barry Pepper, this political thriller isn’t exactly a commercial endeavour. But its shocking story should be a required viewing, whatever your political leanings.
Jeremy Renner stars as Gary Webb, an intense reporter who works for the San Jose Mercury News. There, he ran a three-part article series called “Dark Alliance,” which reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA of USA) had been engaging in shady dealings with Nicaraguan drug lords, essentially allowing massive amounts of cocaine into the United States. The whys of this alliance were complicated, and soon Webb lost control of the story as it spun out into scrutiny of loftier newsrooms and television news programs. CIA and bigger news outlets placed a target on Webb. Soon, he became the story; his own life and mistakes–personal and professional–stealing focus from the shameful government operation he had uncovered.
The story follows a trail that goes back to the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the event that marred Ronald Reagan’s second term as president. The CIA-backed Contras, the Nicaraguan “freedom fighters”, were funded through a variety of unlawful and unethical means.
Webb uncovers an alleged link between the increase in inner city cocaine availability and money being funnelled to the Contras. His assertion is that the CIA aided (or at least turned a blind eye to) the drug’s entry into the United States and the money resulting from the sale of those drugs was delivered to the Contras.
Bottom line: Drugs funded the Contras with the CIA’s knowledge or abetment.
The first half of the film follows the investigation that leads Webb to his conclusion. The final part of the film details the means employed by the CIA to discredit the story, including dredging up an unsavoury past event in Webb’s life and feeding information to three major papers to allow them to go after Webb. Through it all, we see the personal and professional impact of this on a man whose naïve beliefs about the purpose of journalism is trampled underfoot.
Jeremy Renner is electrifying as Webb. Much like he was in The Hurt Locker, Renner is playing a cowboy variant, someone who fights for society, while being an outsider. Though a family man and a seeker of truth, Webb is not an out-and-out good guy. But Kill the Messenger dares us to not be distracted by his faults, while not hiding them. What you think of the man, the film suggests–is secondary to what you make of his story.
A piece of the dialogue which will definitely move you: Webb speaks at a felicitation: “….. That’s what good investigative reporting does, it ruffles feathers. I was never fired and my editors never threw me under the bus, and that’s because I never wrote anything until now, that really mattered to a lot of people, mattered in a scary way, I am not gonna take it back, make nice to save my job, because I thought my job (he pauses and controls himself from breaking down) was to tell public the truth; facts, pretty or not, make a difference……”
Two note-worthy points are that despite being a first class film in terms of performances and content, this film has not been nominated for any awards, and a note at the end of the film that goes.”…..In 1998, the CIA released a 400 page report that acknowledged the Agency associated with members of the Contra movement who engaged in drug trafficking. Consumed with the President
Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, the national media largely ignored the report….”
Kill the Messenger is a compelling film but the realisation that the core of the narrative is based on true events gives it additional power. How the state institutions like the CIA go to any lengths to protect their “interests” under the pretext of “classified” or “sensitive information” should raise many questions in the mind of an alert citizen. In the light of today’s era of leaks and revelations, one can’t help but suspect how many such similar tactics have been employed in recent years.