Directed by: Michael Cuesta – Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Andy García
While this boasts an impressive cast list, many of the big names attached to it have little more than cameo roles here. That’s not to say that their roles aren’t significant, and it is always a joy to see the likes of Liotta and Garcia on the big screen. This, however, is very much the Jeremy Renner show, as he tackles the role of real life investigative journalist Gary Webb.
While Webb’s story is widely known in the US, many people this side of the Atlantic probably haven’t heard of him, but he was an investigative reporter for the San José Mercury News. In 1996, he began a series of articles called Dark Alliance, which investigated the origins of Los Angeles’ booming crack-cocaine trade. He claimed to have uncovered evidence that linked the drugs plague to the war in Nicaragua, and claimed that the cocaine profits were supporting the struggle, with the knowledge and protection of the CIA. When the story was published, other titles went to great lengths to discredit his claims, and even his own paper retracted much of what he had written forcing him to resign his role.
I came to this without any prior knowledge of Webb, so although this announces that it is based on a true story, it was brand new to me. Any thriller involving conspiracies is always going to be complex, and you really need to focus on this to keep track of what is going on. There are so many people popping in and out in important roles that it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who.
Renner is great as Webb, and as his life becomes increasingly difficult in the wake of his reports, you do find yourself willing him to just let it lie for his own and his family’s sake. You really get a sense of his internal struggle, and you question whether or not he is doing the right thing. However, you never really get a sense of why he is doing it. Oliver Platt also gives a noteworthy performance as Webb’s editor, who effectively turns his back on him overnight.
This is very fast moving, and keeping track of the timeline can be somewhat tricky. There are also some rather complicated politics that are tricky to get your head around. I wouldn’t advise having a few drinks before this movie as it really does demand your full attention, and even after my first watch I was somewhat confused by some of the plot threads, having to research Webb’s work to understand it better.
His story is unlikely to have the same resonance in this country, but it is still a fascinating look at a man willing to put himself on the line for something he believes in, at great personal and professional cost to himself. Even if you don’t care about the drug war, on some level we can all relate to that.
On the whole this is a solid thriller. It is inoffensive, and probably could have pushed its subject matter a bit further, but it will satisfy most viewers.