Screened Out – Kill the Messenger

By : Stephen Miller
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Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Barry Pepper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta

The C.I.A.’s complicity in America’s crack cocaine problem is a great, true story. Yet Kill the Messenger uses the most common film narrative possible – treating it like it’s an actual mystery. The acting is really great, the art direction is impeccable, and the storytelling is just dull dull dull.

I believe journalist Gary Webb – the man this movie is about – would definitely object.

In 1996, Webb published an investigative piece stating that the C.I.A. helped Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters sell cocaine in US inner cities in the 1980s. The C.I.A. wanted to assist the Contras’ struggle for democracy. However, the Senate had passed The Boland Act forbidding funding. So, while President Reagan was arguing that Communism wasn’t allowed in Central America, and First Lady Nancy was teaching us all to say no, the government was secretly helping funnel drugs into this country to pay for a foreign war the American Senate did not support.

Pretty incendiary stuff.

The real Gary Webb with his scandalous article; he deserves a movie that provides real answers.

The real Gary Webb with his scandalous article; he deserves a movie that provides real answers.

Unfortunately, Webb’s reporting was largely dismissed. He worked for the tiny San Jose Mercury News, and the C.I.A. and larger papers and news sources ganged up on him. They tore apart his personal life and refuted his claims. A 26-year veteran who’d won numerous awards (including a shared Pulitzer) was left in ruins.

The filmmakers think we’ve forgotten the gist of the scandal. Apparently, we don’t recall how this was tied to Iran gun sales to free hostages. Maybe we don’t remember how papers and TV news shows raked Webb over the coals, even as the story stirred public uprising in L.A. and other cities. But we do know – even the government now admits – that the C.I.A. was complicit in crack cocaine sales.

Maybe we’re just numb to politics by now, when it’s devolved to the point where corporations buy American elections.

So, this film: Renner does exemplary work with a script that never quite gets into Webb’s head. In fact, the whole cast is solid, though most actors only get one scene.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The problem here is the filming. Kill the Messenger treats this like it’s new information, when it’s just not. A quick Google search tells the irrefutable truth over and over. The C.I.A. even published a 400-page report in 1997, telling on itself, basically upholding all of Webb’s basic findings. Standard political intrigue is a boring a pointless approach!

Structurally, Kill the Messenger plays like JFK or All the President’s Men. Yet, even the title indicates the filmmakers should’ve taken a different angle to tell Webb’s story. How was his public crucifixion orchestrated? Why did other journalists – people who should seek the truth – so easily play along?

There are so many more truths out there, ones Kill the Messenger leaves undiscovered.

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