Jeremy Renner Hits Hard in “Kill the Messenger”
By Skip Sheffield
Journalism can be a dangerous business. It can even get you killed.
That’s the big message of “Kill the Messenger,” starring Jeremy Renner as crusading Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Gary Webb.
Renner has twice been nominated for Academy Awards. This time he may well win for his impassioned performance as the hothead, incautious, rough-mannered San Jose Mercury News reporter who virtually single-handedly discovered a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
The story starts in 1996. Webb had left Washington, D.C. with his family after some personal unpleasantness to get a fresh start in California. He was hired by the San Jose paper as a local stringer, but Webb’s ambitions went far beyond that. When Coral Baca (Paz Vega), a beautiful, mysterious girlfriend of a cocaine trafficker handed Webb a sheaf of classified documents, Webb began to shadow shady types, lawyers and U.S. officials alike to assemle pieces of a puzzle that asked how so much crack cocaine was flooding the streets of poverty-stricken South Central Los Angeles and other impoverised cities. The search led him to crack kingpin lawyer Alan Fenster (Tim Blake Nelson) and his client, crack boss “Freeway” Rick Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), Webb was able to convince his wary editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and even more cautious executive editor Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) to allow him to travel to Nicaragua to grill imprisoned drug baron Norwin Menses (Andy Garcia). Webb came to the inescapable conclusion the CIA had been turning a blind eye to the scheme of supplying weapons to anti-Communist Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for cocaine, in a misguided attempt to unseat the leftist Sandinista government during the Administration of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush.
When “Dark Alliance” was published in the Mercury News, the response was swift and overwhelming. Webb was criticized by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times of exaggeration, sloppy reporting and insufficient evidence. Webb was busted down to a bureau 150 miles away in Cupertino.
The negative impact was not only felt by Webb and his newspaper, but his family and in particular his long-suffering wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) and son Eric (Matthew Lintz) who idolized him.
Working from a script by Nick Schou, who wrote a book on Webb’s “Dark Alliance,” and screenwriter Peter Landesman, director Michael Cuestra (“Homeland”) has devised a fast-paced thriller and given Jeremy Renner free reign to create a flawed but fearless action hero of freedom of the press.