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True tale of an intrepid investigative journalist

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“Kill the Messenger”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and drug use

Running time: 112 minutes

Distributor: Focus Features

In August of 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published an eye-opening expose’ detailing exactly how the Central Intelligence Agency had orchestrated the importation of crack cocaine from Nicaragua as well as its distribution in the black community of South Central Los Angeles. Entitled “Dark Alliance,” the 20,000-word series was written by Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), an investigative journalist who’d risked life and limb to release the incendiary information.

For, in the midst of conducting his research, he had been asked “Do you have a family?” by a CIA operative trying to intimidate him into killing the article. The spy agency was ostensibly determined to suppress any facts which might shed light on its covert dealings with the Contras, the rebels attempting to topple the government of Nicaragua.

But Webb, already a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, would not be intimidated and went with the piece. And even though he had supported his shocking allegations with declassified documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, the Establishment secretly enlisted the assistance of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times to discredit him.

These prominent papers pooh-poohed the very notion that the CIA could possibly be behind the dissemination of crack in the inner-city. Nevertheless, “Dark Alliance” became the biggest story of the year, especially among African-Americans, many of whom surfed the internet for the first time in order to read the damning report.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) took to the floor to warn that “Somebody’s going to have to pay for what they have done to my people.” Yet, the revelations seemed to take the greatest toll on Gary Webb, who lost his good name, his job, his career, his home, and even the love of his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) in due course.

This shameful chapter in American history is the subject of Kill the Messenger, a sobering biopic directed by Michael Cuesta and starring Jeremy Renner. The film features an A-list cast also including Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Robert Patrick and Paz Vega.

However, make no mistake, this riveting thriller is a Renner vehicle, and the two-time Academy Award-nominee (for The Hurt Locker and The Town) delivers another Oscar-quality performance as a family man/respected writer slowly turned into a paranoid soul haunted by demons and hunted by Machiavellian mercenaries drunk with power.

A cautionary tale about what might easily transpire whenever the Fourth Estate is willing to serve as the Fifth Column rather than as a government watchdog.

Updated 9:33 am, October 13, 2014
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