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Kill the Messenger Review

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Contras, Crack and the CIA - the dirty truth behind the 'war' on drugs

by Steve Withers Mar 7, 2015

  • Movies review


    Kill the Messenger Review

    This powerful film tells the true story of Gary Webb, a journalist who investigated the CIA's clandestine programme to sell crack cocaine into US ghettos, using the profits to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.

    Oliver North's infamous scheme to sell weapons to Iran in order to bypass Congressional resistance to funding the Contras in Nicaragua is well known, mainly thanks to the hearings that blighted the latter years of the Reagan Presidency. However, for reasons that are made very clear in the film Kill the Messenger, the similar CIA programme that saw the agency working with drug dealers as an alternative source of funding is less well known. At the very least the CIA looked the other way as the drug cartels trafficked cocaine into the US and, quite possibly, was actively involved in this trade, flooding ghettos with crack cocaine.
    The CIA already had form in this area, having famously shipped heroin out of South-East Asia and into the US during the Vietnam War using special flights that became know as Air America. However these new allegations opened a can of worms, drawing attention to the shameful policies of the US in Central America and the overall accountability of the CIA. Perhaps more controversially it also raised the possibility of racism, with the CIA deliberately allowing crack to be sold specifically into the black areas of major US cities. It's no surprise therefore that when Gary Webb initially broke this story it was met with resistance.

    Kill the Messenger
    As played by Jeremy Renner, Gary Webb is shown to be a driven but relatively small-time investigative journalist working for the San Jose Mercury News in the mid-nineties. After a story about how the government confiscates the assets of suspected drug dealers, even when they aren't actually convicted of a crime, Webb is contacted by a mysterious woman played by Paz Vega. It turns out that her boyfriend is on trial for drug trafficking but through information provided by her, Webb realises that there is a much bigger story.

    In fact the possibility that the CIA is knowingly working with the drug cartels in order to fund the Nicaraguan Contras is probably too big a story for Webb's paper but he pursues it anyway regardless of the risks. The film follows the details of his investigation, showing the pressures on both Webb and his family as he follows the story to his shocking conclusion. However unlike other films about journalists breaking a big story, such as All the President's Men, the film doesn't end once the story has broken. Kill the Messenger also goes into the aftermath and the effects it has on Webb's life.

    Kill the Messenger is a thought-provoking film with a powerful central performance from Jeremy Renner.

    The film, as written by Peter Landesman who previously wrote the Kennedy assassination film Parkland, sticks fairly closely to the truth; although as with any dramatic film, there are some changes made for narrative purposes. The film shows how the rest of the press turned on Webb out of jealousy and the establishment tried to discredit him; it also addresses the hypocrisy of the 'war on drugs'. Along with the effective script, the film also benefits from some tight direction from Michael Cuesta, who cranks up the tension and doesn't shy away from the tragedy of Webb's situation and the impact it has on his career and family.

    The film boasts a stellar cast of actors including Rosmarie DeWitt as Webb's wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his editor and Oliver Platt as the editor-in-chief of the San Jose Mercury. In smaller roles are Robert Patrick, Ray Liotta, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper, Michael K. Willaims and Andy Garcia. However the film belongs to Jeremy Renner, who delivers a powerful central performance as Gary Webb. Kill the Messenger is a good reminder that when Renner isn't running around with Avengers and substituting for Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, he's actually a very good actor.

    You can buy Kill the Messenger Blu-ray HERE.

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