This week I had to choose between the over-hyped “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr. or the under-hyped “Kill the Messenger” starring Jeremy Renner.
This was actually a no-brainer, because not only does Hawkeye always trump Iron Man in my world, but while I like Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner has yet to make a bad film that I’ve seen. Well, if you ignore “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
Renner stars as Gary Webb, an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News looking for his big story. It falls in his lap when a woman calls him with accusations that the federal government is working with drug dealers. She somehow has a copy of grand jury testimony that appears to back up her claims.
Webb’s investigation takes him from a filthy jail in Nicaragua to the halls of Capitol Hill. His accusations are white-hot: During the Reagan administration the CIA supported the cocaine-smuggling efforts of drug lords in Nicaragua and used the money to fund the Contras rebel army. Most of those drugs wound up in the United States where they contributed to the nation’s crack epidemic.
It was an explosive story and initially the mainstream media were all over it, putting Webb on television and praising his work. But Webb had no official sources at the CIA to confirm his story and no one at the agency was about to offer any support. Instead the CIA begins a smear campaign against Webb. Sadly, both the media and Webb’s own editors turn on him.
Based on a true story, “Kill the Messenger” is directed by Michael Cuesta and based on the books “Dark Alliance” by Gary Webb and “Kill the Messenger” by Nick Schou. It’s a powerful, fascinating and tragic story with another rock-solid performance by Renner. Webb goes through the whole gamut of emotions in this story and Renner really brings those emotions home. He’s assisted by an excellent supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Barry Pepper, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ray Liotta.
“Kill the Messenger” isn’t a documentary on the Iran-Contra scandal — the focus is primarily on Webb and what he goes through to get the story and all the forces that align against him once he refuses to let go of the story. The movie is far more a condemnation of the media than the CIA.