Make no mistake; this is an important story. This piece of history is so crucial that American children (and others) should be taught it as part of the curriculum. This is the CIA engaging in widespread international conspiracies, even domestically, by allowing thousands of tons of cocaine to be imported, when it was convenient for them. The hypocrisy of keeping that very same cocaine illegal for Americans and sending thousands of people to long prison terms for same makes these policies schizophrenic, immoral, blatantly criminal, and yet beyond the reach of the law. It lays bare the two-tiered so-called “justice” system, and shows the powerful as a criminal class, gangsters.
That’s what Gary Webb uncovered in 1996.
The cat was out of the bag already, somewhat, as a result of the Iran-Contra CONSPIRACY hearings of the mid-1980s. But that had died down and was largely forgotten about, at least in America’s newsrooms. Webb was given some information that the government had let slip from its fingers.
So Gary Webb, with this new lead into state-sanctioned drug running, set out to do what a professional reporter was supposed to do. Only Webb never got the memo that all that Pollyanna shit is good for telling children, so that they’ll mindlessly believe in the system, but that the real world is a much darker and somewhat sickening place.
This film version had its good points and bad. I’ll start with the good.
The opening of the story and the build-up are done well. The period looks good, the locations, cinematography and most of the music works as intended. Renner is a decent actor and he did his best with the script. Montage sequences encapsulate the history quickly with well-selected clips.
But the bad becomes apparent in snippets here and there. And that is the cliched dialogue whenever the interpersonal scenes need to make points about Webb’s family. These cliches pile on, and they are flat and uninspired. The dialogue dragged this thing down, where it should have really been punched up.
Lastly, the ending is anti-climactic, and it didn’t have to be. Truncated as it is, it avoided two gigantic story beats and relied instead on text cards – the laziest form of filmmaking, as I’ve mentioned before.
The first beat was the break-up of the family. This wasn’t dramatized, although it was likely what finally did Gary in.
The second one was the suicide itself. Not shown or dramatized at all, this was a major omission.
It seemed like the filmmakers thought they were ending on an All the President’s Men type of text sequence, but they weren’t. The ending of All the President’s Men was visually striking, from a rapidly firing teletype machine that repeated actual news headlines leading up to the removal of Nixon from the White House. That was in line with the newspaper motif and the structure of the story set up throughout.
Here, in Kill the Messenger, they avoided the killing of the messenger, and instead put up some text. This added nothing to our understanding or empathy for Webb, nothing at all. It remains the laziest form of filmmaking and we are owed more after sitting two hours through the film. It felt like a cheap copout after a very downbeat final scene. So the film ended too soon, lacking a final climax.
Partly this was the result of the real tragedy. But a tragedy needs to show the tragedy. That’s the point. That’s what the end of a tragic story needs. You can’t just resort to a couple of cue cards. This failing was a major disappointment, and it likely left audiences cold.