“Blame Reagan for making me into a monster
Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra
I ran contraband that they sponsored”
-Jay Z, “Blue Magic”
Conspiracy theories are funny. On the one hand, only a fool believes everything their government tells them. On the other hand, if you find a conspiracy behind every corner, your assertions lose credibility. That being said, I know the U.S. government is capable of some appalling behavior. An entity that intentionally infected Black men with syphilis is capable of anything; so the notion that the government facilitated the sale of crack cocaine to its own citizens is not unbelievable to me. Under the Reagan administration, the CIA funded the Nicaraguan Contras by allowing them to export cocaine into Los Angeles (and other American cities) while funneling the profits back to them.
That revelation forms the crux of Kill the Messenger, a film based on true events involving San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner, American Hustle) and his exposure of the CIA’s involvement in what came to be known as a massive crack epidemic. The movie takes place in the mid 90’s, just before the dawn of the information age in which we now live. Although we weren’t in a “24 hour news cycle” back then like we are now, you can imagine the controversial uproar Webb’s articles caused.
The government’s actions were layered and corrupt, as an intricate scheme revealed their use of an informant who doubled as drug middleman. Danilo Blandon was a go-between for the Contras and American dealers like the infamous “Freeway” Ricky Ross, who grossed upwards of a billion dollars by selling drugs to the Blood and Crip street gangs of Los Angeles. Blandon informed on Ross, collapsing his empire while working at the behest of the government. I’d encourage you to read up on this scandal yourselves, as it is quite interesting. These types of events are nearly unbelievable, and lend themselves well to cinematic re-telling.
Webb should’ve been a Pulitzer winner, as he had the courage to risk his life to expose the truth of a corrupt government. However, those who pull back the curtain often fall victim to those they are exposing. Webb’s career was ruined, as the paper began to distance itself from him and his reputation was smeared and character assassinated. In a tragic turn, he was found dead in 2004 of two gunshot wounds to the head, in what was deemed a “suicide.” How one could be capable of shooting himself in the head twice is truly baffling, but after all I’ve told you – are you really surprised?
Jeremy Renner turned in a very good performance, effectively conveying the idealism, passion and doggedness that drove his character. Webb risked his own safety and that of his family in pursuit of what he believed was right. Saddest of all was the realization that his career was ruined. It was cruelly ironic that Webb’s assertions were subsequently confirmed in a government report that went largely unnoticed while the nation was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I often talk about the goal or purpose of film. Aside from the obvious emotional effect movies have on us, every now and again the purpose of film is to educate and expose. Kill the Messenger was a nice reminder that you can actually learn a thing or two from the movies. Grade: B+