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Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Kill the Messenger - true-life drama of CIA drug exposé journalist

Script simplifies complex tale of how Gary Webb exposed CIA deal for cocaine sales in US to fund Nicaraguan Contra rebels, and subsequent campaign to discredit him that led to his suicide

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 12:00pm

In ancient times, messengers bearing bad news were sometimes killed – thus the film title. Kill the Messenger, based on the true story of US journalist Gary Webb, updates the concept to modern times. The script by former journalist Peter Landesman, who recently directed the medical drama Concussion, does a good job of simplifying a complex real-life chain of events.

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In the 1980s, the US Congress passed laws that made funding the Nicaraguan Contras, who were trying to overthrow their democratically elected left-wing government, illegal. But many in the Reagan administration wanted funding to continue.

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Webb (Jeremy Renner) discovered that the CIA had made an arrangement with Nicaraguan cocaine dealers that allowed the latter to sell crack cocaine in the US, as long as some of the profits were used to fund the Contras. Webb broke the story, but a concerted campaign by the authorities discredited Webb’s personal life and journalistic abilities – a tactic which ultimately led to his suicide.

Facts of the story are changed for the drama; it still puts the generally accepted point of view that Webb got the story right, even though his reporting needed more consolidation. Director Michael Cuesta makes the wider point that good journalism is always going to ruffle the feathers of powerful interests, and these interests are not afraid of committing criminal acts to silence journalists.

Kill the Messenger opens on January 28