For the past 40 years the films of Alan J Pakula have defined the genre of the conspiracy thriller. The Parallax View and All the President’s Men depict the sinister, secretive world of the intelligence community and its covert activity brought to light by crusading journalists to a grateful nation.
Kill The Messenger is a forceful rewriting of the genre. A true story, it is a powerful indictment of government collusion and media complicity in the destruction of a fearless principled journalist who uncovered the story of his life and pays the ultimate price for doing so.
In the 1990s Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a series of articles entitled Dark Alliance. He uncovered links between the CIA, Nicaraguan drug lords who funded the Contra war, and the street gangs that precipitated the crack cocaine epidemic that infested Los Angeles and many other US cities in the 1980s.
Director Michael Cuesta skilfully retells Webb’s life story with a classic rise and fall arc that benefits greatly from a stirring central performance by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, Avengers Assemble).
The film deftly traces Webb’s unerring commitment to the truth in writing the Dark Alliance series. He uncovers the drug network of Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia), Danilo Blandon (Yul Vasquez) and “Freeway” Ricky Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), Blandon’s connections to Washington and the secret war against the Sandanistas fought during the Reagan administration.
At a critical point a politician played by Michael Sheen utters the immortal line, “Some truths are too true to tell.” The threat is made real once the story becomes a print and internet sensation — at one point the Dark Alliance webpage was attracting 1.3 million hits a day.
The explosive nature of Webb’s revelations makes him and his family targets of both the intelligence services and the mainstream media. In a far cry from their days defying Nixon to print the Pentagon Papers, the LA Times and the Washington Post cast aspersions on Webb’s findings and smear him at the behest of pressure from Washington.
Instead of investigating further, the media become government pawns and attempt to bury the story — along with its author — to the outrage of the citizens of South Central LA. Even Webb’s own paper throws him under the bus. Cuesta harnesses archive news footage to evoke the horrors of the “Just Say No” era of the 1980s to display the utter hypocrisy of the Reagan’s War on Drugs.
Blessed with a powerful ensemble cast, Kill the Messenger weaves a complex series of interlocking stories into a compelling tale of one man’s search for the truth, and the lengths the state will go to silence him.