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Movie Review: “Kill the Messenger”

Oct 092014
 By , October 9, 2014

Kill the Messenger

“Kill the Messenger” – a film review by Gary Chew

Pettiness runs deep in the media, whatever kind. The plight of the late, award-winning print journalist Gary Webb attests to that much more than anything I experienced in a 50-year career in broadcast media. After reading Webb, reading about him and seeing director Michael Cuesta’s “Kill the Messenger,” pettiness over the breaking of an important news story regarding the CIA, Nicaragua and crack cocaine makes it difficult not to think that smart, well-informed and important people in the newspaper business can sometimes be shallow as hell.

Kill the MessengerI didn’t know him, but I know people who did. And I well remember the day I heard the news that Gary Webb had killed himself in an adjacent Sacramento burb from me. I could almost feel his loneliness. I was depressed. But not as depressed as he obviously was before he twice pulled a trigger … so the reportage went in late 2004.

The last few years of Gary Webb‘s life are like a Hollywood movie script. The script for “Kill the Messenger” seems as if it wrote itself. But it didn’t. It took thousands of pages of writing by the reporter, which included not only his exhaustive piece about the CIA in Nicaragua and crack cocaine in the US for his book “Dark Alliance,” but also a short piece called “The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On.” Find it in a volume of essays (edited by Kristina Borjesson) titled “Into the Buzzsaw.” Others contributed too, particularly Nick Shou, who wrote the book “Kill the Messenger,” then Peter Landesman boiling it down to a screenplay with a running time of 112 minutes.

Kill the Messenger, Rosemarie DewittModesto, California native Jeremy Renner, who has shot almost to the top echelon of film actors since “The Hurt Locker” (2010 Best Film Oscar), is a producer of “Kill the Messenger” and plays Webb. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Webb’s wife. There’s a long list of cameo performances that comes with familiar faces: Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Gil Bellows, Paz Vega, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Scheen and Ray Liotta. The scene with Liotta in dialogue with Renner (3rd act) in a darkened motel room is one of the most important of the film. Listen closely.

The film is not spectacular, but what it’s about and what it strives to leave in the mind of those who see it is. After all, it’s based on a hard and truthful account of a young man, with a wife and three children, who had reported moderately significant stories and lots of insignificant events and features, all of which he found personally satisfying and rewarding … giving him a sense of accomplishment. But not until the “Dark Alliance” days of his life did he fully understand he hadn’t yet — in his own words — “written anything important enough to suppress.”

You will automatically know, near the close of the film, to also listen attentively for Renner as Webb doing a sort of farewell address to colleagues at a journalists’ awards dinner. “Kill the Messenger” honors Gary Webb — warts and all. And don’t all of us have some of those!

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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