Some stories are just too true to tell
I had a keen interest in seeing this film as I have a passion for conspiracy films. All The President’s Men, The Conversation, The Parallax View, even The Pelican Brief are films I’d watch again and again. The Green Zone was supposed to be another must-see conspiracy film, and I did see it. But it didn’t make the cut into the classic film category.
Unfortunately, Kill the Messenger, while well-intentioned, also fails to make that cut. Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb, and when we meet him, it is 1996, he’s an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. Webb gets a call from a woman who asks to meet him, promising him the story of his career.
She’s the sexy girl friend of a local drug baron, and testifying against him, is the informant Danilo Blandon. He’s played by Yul Vazquez. Once upon a time, in a Seinfeld episode, Vazquez stood on a street outside of Elaine Benes’ apartment and said to Kramer – We’re taking the armoire. Whether you like it or not. We’re taking it.
Anyway, this girl friend tells Webb, that Blandon has been making big money, huge money, importing drugs into the USA with the approval of the US Government. She also tells Webb, You thought you were getting a piece of the cheese. Instead, I’m giving you the whole mouse.This isn’t great writing, but you can easily label it colorful.
Well Webb is already an excellent investigative reporter and he’d already nabbed a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles he wrote about property seized by the DEA. So he followed his instincts and a trail of contacts until he got his arms around the story, which at the time was about 10 years old.
The CIA had been in bed with the drug cartels. In exchange for allowing the drugs in, and then earmarking them for urban centers like South Central LA and Harlem, The CIA would funnel cash and weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. It seems that the then US president, Ronald Reagan, could not get Congressional approval for support for the contras, so everything had to be done via back channels, and an unholy and unspoken of alliance.
Webb had to convince his editor Anna Simons (played nicely by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and she and Webb had to convince the newspaper’s Managing Editor Jerry Ceppos, played by Oliver Platt, to run the story.
Did they run the story, they did. They scooped every big city newspaper as well as the 3 big Network Broadcast TV Companies. It was indeed a big story.
But the blowback was immediate and swift. Webb’s personal history was trotted out. He was called every name in the book, and his credibility was severely questioned. Rather than discrediting the story, called Dark Alliance, by Webb, they went after him.
And that’s where I think the film loses its way. Rather than concentrating on getting the story right, and having Webb get on-the-record comments from the ‘right’ people instead of the ‘wrong’ people, with the goal being to get the truth out there; the film changes its focus and Webb is turned into a victim. Rather than showing us Webb striding into offices and searching for facts, we get his hand-wringing wife, and a now doubting teen-aged son.
Yes, he’d been warned that the story was bigger than he could even imagine – some stories are just too true to be told –
and he’s talked to by the CIA itself
– look for a scary Gil Bellows, as a CIA Agent – we know you were in Nicaragua.
But despite the veiled or non-threat threats, Webb pursued the story. Even after his own newspaper banished him to the boondocks of Cupertino, CA. where the San Jose Mercury maintained a three desk outpost.
Webb would say to some one who doubted him – National Security and crack cocaine in the same sentence? Does that not sound strange to you? But he was stymied at every turn.
Renner is excellent as Webb, as are Platt and Winstead, but despite the presence or recognizable actors like Barry Pepper, Richard Schiff, and even Robert Patrick,
Andy Garcia, and Ray Liotta, in supporting roles, the film falls short of being either riveting or compelling.
Directed by Michael Cuesta, who has 8 episodes of Homeland on his directorial resume, and written by Peter Landesman who adopted Gary Webb’s book Dark Alliances, the book about the events of the film, and Nick Shou’s book, Kill The Messenger, the book about Webb himself – I’d call this a worthy try.
This one won’t be called a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll rate it at just three-point zero myself.
And for you conspiracy fans out there – how is it that this film is only booked into about 370 some odd theaters. Which means this film, which opened yesterday, October 10th, is a lot closer to having a limited opening rather than a typical – ‘at theaters everywhere’ kind of wide opening.
Here’s a link to the trailer: