Saturday, October 18, 2014

Movie Review: "Kill the Messenger" (2014)

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Director: Michael Cuesta
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Gary Webb is a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. He has just finished a story on police seizures of the private property of accused drug dealers without due process. It is this story that attracts the attention of Coral Baca, the girlfriend of an accused drug dealer. She gives him an accidentally leaked grand jury discovery document that shows a major drug kingpin named Danilo Blandon is testifying against her lower level boyfriend. Webb questions the motives of the prosecution on why they would use a whale to catch a fish. As he digs deeper, Webb finds that Blandon and his partner Meneses have been allowed to smuggle cocaine into the United States with the complicity of the CIA; in turn, the cartels will funnel money and weapons back to the Nicaraguan rebels and the CIA will look the other way. When Gary finally publishes his story, his whole life is turned upside down.  

This movie is based on actual events in the life of Gary Webb and the persecution he faced when simply trying to tell the truth about the illegal and complicit acts purported by the United States government in the 1980's. As a whole, this film is quite solid, though we felt like it dragged just a little bit right after Webb published his story and right when his life goes into limbo. Jeremy Renner does a spectacular job as Gary Webb, and after seeing him on various talk shows leading up to the release of this movie, it was clear that it was a passion project for him and it shows in the overall quality of the film. Webb was a journalistic crusader not without his flaws. He was a cheater, he was overly emotional and extremely fact-driven, and yet we are compelled to root for him and help him uncover the details of his story. When he got pushed down, he fought until he couldn't fight anymore. The painful and heartbreaking end of his career would see him never make money from the profession he once loved, all because he had the audacity to dare and tell the truth. We got the sense that Renner felt like this man's life was a story that needed to be told more than it already had been. It is one that is enthralling and yet completely sickening at the same time. Up until watching this movie, BigJ and I really had no idea who Gary Webb even was, we had little to no recollection of the goings-on related to the CIA and the war on drugs, and we also hadn't ever heard of the San Jose Mercury News. Once actually watching the film, news clips that were shown during the beginning, middle and end of the movie jogged BigJ's memory and he remembered hearing about the government using crack cocaine to "control" the black community. These clips are another depressingly true aspect of the film and are used brilliantly to show the sensationalist nature of the media.

The biggest idea we took away from this film is that it shows why the media, a once trusted source of integrity that people could count on for actual facts, can no longer be trusted by the American public. It also shows how the media can take an article that clearly says one thing and twist it into something else that is more catchy with a greater public appeal. In essence, the twisting of these articles makes them lose the entire crux and heart of what the story is, known today on the internet as "click bait" articles. And while we're on the subject of the world wide web, unfortunately, journalism is all but dead with the expansion and prevalence of the net. Anyone Joe Schmo can publish an article online and say that it's the truth, and many "trusted" website don't even fact check anything anymore in an effort to be the first media outlet to report a breaking story. That, coupled with the 24-hour news cycle, make for grim reminders that Webb's work was essentially all for not. Sorry for the slight sidebar, now back to our regularly scheduled program. "Kill the Messenger" also explores the lengths at which the US government will go to run operations they don't want on public record, as well as the dark dealings done in the name of national security. We're almost positive this has gotten worst post-9/11, as the NSA and The Patriot Act have given the government license to do whatever the hell they feel like doing without so much as a warrant, all in the name of national security.

Driven in large part by Renner's stellar acting and the all too familiar tale of the search for veracity in the deep, dark underbelly of the annals of United States government, this is a story that deserves more respect than it received and more attention than what this film will bring it.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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