Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 10:37 pm | Fair 68º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Kill the Messenger’

3 Stars — Troubling

The power of a film based on an actual event is that we are transported back in time to experience that event firsthand. The problem of such a film is that we are not actually seeing the real event, but imagined conversations and relationships instead. So when Michael Cuesta creates the experience of Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) in Kill the Messenger, we experience the tension and the injustice as though it is happening now and we are the appalled witnesses.

Based on a book by Webb titled the same as his original newspaper series, Dark Alliance, and a book by Nick Schou with the name used for the film, the final script is written by Peter Landesman. Though the facts are still contested, there is enough evidence to assume that the primary thesis of Webb is true — that our CIA conspired with Nicaraguan drug dealers to fund their war.

As a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Webb was invited into the underbelly of the drug world when the beautiful girlfriend of an accused drug dealer provides him with evidence that the government is somehow involved. But this discovery is only the tip of the iceberg.

Quickly, Webb follows the leads to what appears to be a CIA-involved plan to use drug dealers to fund weapons for the Contra fighters in Nicaragua, a group President Ronald Reagan wanted to support but Congress denied him.

Although this is all history, we won’t reveal the way the story develops or the effect this has on Webb and his family. The tension of knowing that he was taking on a powerful, clandestine organization of the most powerful nation in the world fuels the suspense of the film.

As the film comes to an end with the descriptions of what happened to Webb in real life and the actual pictures of the reporter and his family, the reality is brought to life all the more. As a story, this is a powerful tale, but as a possible depiction of an actual historical event, it is haunting. Realistic and possible, the acting is superb, the writing is excellent and the directing creates a tale told with passion in a film that is worthy of the actual event.


» When you realize that it could be the CIA that allowed crack to be sold in American cities in order to fund an illegal war, what was your first reaction?

» It is difficult to imagine how a person could justify the destruction of human lives by dealing drugs. It is understood that there is a lot of money to be made, but what do you think causes a person to sell out a community including children to make this money?

» The mainline press attacked Webb rather than trying to uncover the truth of the story, and this is one of the evidences used by journalism schools to show how the government can manipulate the media. Do you believe we have a free press? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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