It is not always the news that is disturbing so much as it is the manner in which it is edited and presented to us – history might yet judge News Corp to be a greater threat to our freedom than any rag-tag army of bullies and godless fanatics.
Based on what happened to an American investigative journo who ventured too close for comfort to a dirty government secret, this movie nobbles itself at the outset by presenting the exposé in its preamble.
When you are told that the US-backed Contras in Nicaragua were being bankrolled by the profits of a vast cocaine trade that was sanctioned by Washington, it takes any sense of intrigue out of the drama that follows; a mystery being unravelled through dedicated reporters digging for facts and revealing them to a deceived readership, as in the classic All The Presidents Men (1976), is simply not there.
Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) wrote for the Santa Monica Mercury in the mid-eighties. He stumbled upon the connection between the state and the cartels and gnawed at it like a dog with a bone. Inevitably, heavies from the CIA became involved and Webb, obsessive in his pursuit of the truth, found himself under intense pressure to walk away from the matter.
He was discredited by his peers and, ultimately, his home life suffered. There is an element of orthodoxy in the narrative that makes it feel too predictable – we know where we’re headed and what we want is strong characterisation and emotional content to keep us involved. Without ever losing its sense of purpose, Michael Questa’s film never really rises above the mundane.
Renner too often looks like he’s acting – Webb’s reaction to the theft of his motorcycle is way over the top and his acceptance speech is delivered with self-conscious, pretend intensity – while Rosemarie DeWitt is asked to do little more than smile wanly and occasionally tear-up as his wife Sue.
Unfortunately, the movie’s lack of virility is highlighted by its devastating postscript.
~ John Campbell