KILL THE MESSENGER SHOWS HOW TO DISCREDIT AN HONEST REPORTER
During 1985-1987, members of the Reagan administration persuaded Israel to sell guns to Iran in exchange for the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon by a group connected with Iran. The United States Central Intelligence Agency then sold replacement weapons to Israel and used part of the proceeds of the sale to fund the Contras, a dissident group that sought to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. Scenes of that Iran-Contra scandal populate the early frames of Kill the Messenger, which is about a different rogue operation that involved CIA encouragement of the Contras to fly hard drugs to Los Angeles and other American cities in order to fund their insurgency (and make millions). The latter scandal was identified by Associated Press journalists Brian Barger and Robert Parry in 1985, followed by Senator John Kerry’s investigation and report in 1989, but brushed aside by the news media until 1996, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) broke the story based initially on grand jury testimony leaked to him by an unidentified woman. Webb, outside the major news media that had become puppets of propaganda for administrations in Washington, decided to focus on the impact on the African American community, and the result was to stir the ire of Congresswoman Maxine Waters (featured in a videotaped speech) and others that the CIA was deliberately shipping crack cocaine to the Black community. Kill the Messenger is a biopic of Webb, based on Webb’s own Dark Alliance and the biography by Nick Schou with the same title as the film. The film portrays Webb’s relentless quest to obtain secret information without a tape recorder or other means of authentication as well as efforts of the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Washington Post to discredit him and his sources to recant, whereupon his editor (played by Oliver Platt) disavows him, forcing him to resign. The film also shows the adverse effect of his vilification on his family life, his inability to contain himself under pressure, and ends with titles indicating his death by apparent suicide in 2004 after the re-election of George W. Bush, whose entry into the Iraq War was perhaps a culmination of journalistic malfeasance that he could no longer endure. Directed by Michael Cuesta, Kill the Messenger is a quintessential exposé film and has been nominated by the Political Film Society for an award in 2014 for that category as well as best film making the case for greater democracy. MH
FURY HAS SOUND, BUT WHAT DOES IT SIGNIFY?
Fury, written and directed by David Ayer, is not designed as an anti-war film. Credits at the beginning note that German tanks were technically superior to American tanks, yet in the film the American tanks do better. Featured is a tank unit commanded by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (played by Brad Pitt) that is assigned to advance into Germany behind enemy lines, so there is plenty of gory battlefield action. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), the youngest solider, is at first afraid to shoot to kill at point blank range but later, after being mentored by Wardaddy, enjoys shooting in defense from the security of the tank. The film features a needless execution of a German soldier and rude behavior toward two young women in a home that is later destroyed for no reason. Wardaddy and his crew try to ambush an SS battalion from the tank, named Fury, despite limited ammunition. But do filmviewers really need to see another World War II film, especially with such cardboard characters? Wardaddy’s epigram “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent" may have inspired Ellison, who was snatched from a desk job to be assistant tank driver, but such a bromide underscores the depravity of the subject and thus of the film. MH