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Journalist Gary Webb's Story Told In 'Kill The Messenger'


Now to a tale about a man pushed to his limits. In 1996, San Jose Mercury news reporter Gary Webb published a series of articles under the headline, "Dark Alliance." The story behind those stories has now been made into a feature film called, "Kill The Messenger." Film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Can some stories be too true to tell? Can telling the truth ruin your life instead of setting you free? These are some of the issues facing journalist Gary Webb as he starts to investigate a potential bombshell. Did elements in the CIA make common cause with Central American drug dealers? Listen as Webb, played by Jeremy Renner, fills in his editors.


JEREMY RENNER: (As Gary Webb) So one of the DEA's most wanted, not only not in jail for eternity, but apparently on a government payroll, admitting in open court that he brought in thousands of kilos of cocaine to the U.S. every day for them.

OLIVER PLATT: (As Jerry Ceppos) For who?

RENNER: (As Gary Webb) The U.S. government - or with them - or at least while they were looking the other way.

PLATT: (As Jerry Ceppos) Jesus.

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD: (As Anna Simons) This is the biggest story the Merc's ever had.

PLATT: (As Jerry Ceppos) That's what worries me.

TURAN: "Kill The Messenger" is an energetic film that spins a fast-moving tale. It applauds the nerve needed to take on the establishment and warns against the fierce vengeance those in power will take if you tread on their toes. "Kill The Messenger" benefits from a confident, convincing performance by Renner. He digs into the role with the same won't-let-go fierceness Webb himself displayed when newsworthy information came his way, even when government agents try their best to dissuade him.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) This is a little awkward for us, but you're getting into some sensitive areas. There are ongoing operations you're in danger of exposing, operations that have taken months, years to set up, thousands of man-hours, millions to fund.

TURAN: When the Mercury News publishes the "Dark Alliance" story, it does explode like a bomb. But the explosion damaged Webb more than anyone else. For what no one counted on was that the media establishment, elite newspapers like The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, would not take kindly to being beaten to a story of this magnitude. In over his head in ways he never anticipated, Webb became a journalistic pariah for telling the story he believed in. As its title indicates, "Kill The Messenger" is a cautionary tale, but for crusading journalists, keeping yourself safe from Gary Webb's fate may be easier said than done.

MARTIN: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and The LA Times. This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.