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“Kill the Messenger” is a film adaptation of author Gary Webb’s book, “Dark Alliance.” The movie centers around uncovering the CIA’s role in placing cocaine in California’s poor African American communities during the 1980s.
The film was set in 1996, and it is written with a theme of distrust. Regardless of what Webb does, there is something that increases suspicions or invokes a sense of distrust. Even in his home life, he is unable to escape this feeling.
The San Jose Mercury News writer is played by Jeremy Renner, who does an excellent job at embodying a reporter on the run. But, unfortunately, his incredible acting skills are not enough to make up for the white allyship despite his talent.
Although Renner most likely exaggerated some of Webb’s characteristics for dramatic appeal, his portrayal of Webb makes the writer seem like a classic white ally. The film begins with Renner meeting Paz Vega; she plays the role of a drug dealer’s girlfriend. Vega’s character gives Renner a secret grand jury list that reveals connections to the CIA. This prompts Renner to investigate the agency’s involvement in the 1980s cocaine epidemic that wreaked havoc on African American communities.
Although Renner’s character travels to a Nicaraguan prison to meet a former cocaine dealer, he initially seems interested in telling the story to help the African American community. However, it quickly turns into a way to prove Renner is not a crazy conspiracy theorist. In other words, Renner portrays Webb as a man who cares more about his own ego than the lives of the people who were affected by the cocaine epidemic. However, this is most likely due to Renner dramatizing Webb to make him seem more like a stereotypical journalist. As a result, the actor’s efforts backfire somewhat and instead create an ego-driven journalist who does not care about anyone except proving he is not a conspiracy theorist.
History of Cocaine
Despite the film being set during Reagan’s war on drugs era, the film only briefly alludes to this. Interestingly, the history of cocaine is not truly discussed. Since the effects of cocaine continue to ravage African American communities, the film missed an opportunity to address the drug’s history in-depth. The war on drugs was started during Ronald Reagan’s presidency; the idea behind it was to eliminate drug usage and distribution globally.
Ironically enough, drug usage increased as cocaine was introduced into African American communities. Unfortunately, due to these communities already being poor, the cocaine epidemic, and very few community resources’ many of these communities became beset with violence.
As Andy Garcia’s character says in the film, “Crack was for Black folks, but cocaine was for the white people.” Thus, while poor African American communities were being scrutinized, most white communities were not even considered.
As a result, the war on drugs led to higher incarceration rates, and as people would expect, the prison population is made up of primarily Black and Latin men. Unfortunately, in the end, “Kill the Messenger” fails to acknowledge either of these details instead focuses on a white man with a savior complex.
Distrust and Ego
Largely “Kill the Messenger” centers around a theme of distrust. There is distrust in Webb’s marriage, family, credibility, law enforcement, and the government. This theme rings eerily similar to the distrust following the capital insurrection during former President Donald Trump’s presidency.
As Webb continues to search for the truth about the CIA’s involvement, his actions are demonized by his peers at San Jose Mercury News, as well as The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
Even his colleagues and wife beg him to forget about the story and continue writing about meaningless things. But, unfortunately, Renner’s character obviously does not listen, and this leads to his secret affair being revealed to his oldest son and the reopening of a deep, unhealed wound in his wife.
“Kill the Messenger” does a fantastic job at weaving distrust through every major plotline in the film, despite failing in multiple other categories. In doing so, they give Renner’s character a temporary moment of personhood and allow many viewers to see that even a man trying to do the right thing can make mistakes. Regardless of how accurate Renner’s portrayal of the late Gary Webb is, it is easy to understand why he was framed in such a volatile light.
Final Thoughts on ‘Kill the Messenger’
Despite all of my criticisms, I can honestly say that “Kill the Messenger” was one of the most interesting films I have ever watched. There are details in the film that should be emphasized and others that should be rid of; however, it does a great job at amplifying the theme of distrust in Webb’s life. Overall, I would give the film a five out of ten.
Opinion News by Reginae Echols
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
NPR: ‘Kill The Messenger’ Incompletely Unravels A Complex Tale; by Mark Jenkins
IMDb: Kill the Messenger (2014)
Britannica: Crack Epidemic
Featured Image Courtesy of Tony Webster’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Neil Berrett’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Victoria Pickering’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License