I try to see every one of Jeremy Renner’s films after his great performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER where he played a Sergeant in Iraq dismantling IED’s (improvised explosive devices) in the dusty, tension filled streets of Baghdad. I will never forget a scene in the shower, water pouring over his bloodied torso slowly slumping down to the ground, tears mixing in with the wet spray that was bathing his body; an attempt to cleanse his psyche of the horrors of warfare. In KILL THE MESSENGER directed by Michael Cuesta, based on a true story, Renner is in another descent - one that is politically driven - in an intense performance as Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Webb, an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News writing a series entitled “Dark Alliance” on the CIA’s drug dealing connection to the “Contras” during the war in Nicaragua in the 1980’s.
“…Webb investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had smuggled cocaine into the U.S. Their smuggled cocaine was distributed as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, with the profits funneled back to the Contras. Webb also alleged that this influx of Nicaraguan-supplied cocaine sparked, and significantly fueled, the widespread crack cocaine epidemic that swept through many U.S. cities during the 1980s. According to Webb, the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by Contra personnel. Webb charged that the Reagan administration shielded inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to raise money for the Contras, especially after Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which prohibited direct Contra funding…” [Wikipedia]
In this film we experience an institutional backlash to Webb’s reporting, including correspondents from the prestigious NY Times, The LA Times and The Washington Post, all glazing over the story in their own papers; the tragic manipulation of facts in order to destroy the veracity of Webb's coverage of events. We view the absence of San Jose Mercury News’ editorial support at critical moments in Webb’s heroic delving into extensive research; the Reagan Administration’s financing of a war through drug trafficking pitting “truth vs. power”; the perversion of principle to the needs of “security” on the backs of the south central Los Angeles community. One does not need to “kill the messenger” with bullets - one can do so through the media attacking the person not the story under the potent pressure of the government.
KILL THE MESSENGER attempts to portray Gary Webb in his domestic, familial role as a loving though humanly “flawed” father of 3 children, with a supportive loving wife (the beautiful actor Rosemarie De Witt) all in danger and threatened by Webb’s probing into the murkiness of political sludge - the undisclosed secrets of the inner workings of government aired out inviting dirty revenge. This is also a David vs. Goliath tale - a lone person who in his “innocence” believes in the unveiling of the machinations of authority through the pen and the judiciousness of our legal system.
The portrait of Gary Webb is a tenacious and vivid study of idealism in the fight for the unearthing of corruption. I left the theater saddened and disheartened, but at the same time hopeful for those rare individuals who are fearless enough to stand up for what they believe when their support system has been paralyzed by fear of retribution. Hard to do. They merit my deepest respect and admiration.