A reporter who worked at the Plain Dealer for a short time, Gary Webb had a nose for sniffing out corruption. It was something he pursued ever since he starting writing editorials for his college newspaper. That tendency would carry over to the San Jose Mercury News, where he produced a series of articles to expose the C.I.A.’s connection to illegal arms and drug trade designed to aid the Contras in Nicaragua (his articles implied that the C.I.A. was responsible for the crack epidemic in South Central Los Angeles). This where Kill the Messenger, a new drama based on this time period of his life, picks up. The film, which opens today areawide, falters in its second half but essentially achieves what it sets to accomplish (namely, vindicate Webb’s work).
At the film’s start, Gary (Jeremy Renner) and his family have just moved from Cleveland to San Jose to “get a fresh start.” But Gary’s interest in connecting the C.I.A. to drug dealers in Southern California takes him down a particularly dark road (a “rabbit hole” as one politician puts it). Gary, who often appears reckless (he rides his motorcycle to blow off steam), flies to Nicaragua to interview a drug dealer (Andy Garcia) and tries to trace the flow of weapons and guns. When his article finally hits the pages of the paper, it causes a huge stir and bigger papers attempt to discredit his work even though he’s posted all the documents he used in writing the story on the paper’s website.
The film’s second half falters a bit as it documents the fallout. Gary drifts into a downward spiral, alienating his co-workers and family. In a particularly awkward moment, Gary shows up to receive his Journalist of the Year award and is greeted with only tepid applause. Be sure to sit through the credits to see the ways in which Webb’s work has been verified after his death, adding to the terrible tragedy at the core of the story.