“KILL THE MESSENGER” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)
112 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Apart from featuring Jeremy Renner’s best screen performance since “The Hurt Locker,” the new film “Kill the Messenger” is noteworthy as a throwback to the good old days before around-the-clock cable news.
We’re talking about a time when the ink-stained wretches of the newspapers were widely viewed as, well, as kind of heroic.
Badly paid, sure, and probably morally reprehensible in matters of alcohol and other forms of hedonism. But these journalists happily clung to the idealistic notion that their job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and in films like “All the Presidents Men” newspaper reporters shined a light on corruption and criminality.
“Kill the Messenger” is based on the career of Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who in the mid-1990’s, while covering the crack cocaine epidemic, stumbled upon a seemingly incredible story: To fund a rebel army battling the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Contras had been smuggling countless tons of cocaine into the US. The ensuing scandal became known as “drugs for guns.”
Webb never alleged that the CIA was behind the program, only that the CIA must have known about the drugs and tolerated it.
In other words, during the same years that Nancy Reagan was telling America’s kids to “just say no,” our government was allowing a flood of dangerous drugs to inundate the country’s inner cities. Most of the victims of this scourge were black.
Written by Peter Landesman and directed by Michael Cuesta (a veteran of Showtime’s “Homeland”), “Kill the Messenger” starts out as a sort of journalistic procedural. Renner’s Webb stumbles across a secret government document that suggests a partnership between the government and a major drug trafficker. Then, through dogged research, interviews, and travel to Central America and Washington D.C., Webb puts together a story that will rock the country and win him major journalism awards.