CHUCK ZLOTNICK / FOCUS FEATURESDirector Michael Cuesta’s “Kill The Messenger” is about a San Jose Mercury News reporter who became famous

Michael Cuesta film tackles Gary Webb’s explosive story

Director Michael Cuesta had some tough decisions to make. The movie of “Kill the Messenger” could have been shaped and told a dozen different ways.

Opening Friday, the movie tells how, in 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) broke a story about how the CIA funded the Contras in Nicaragua by allowing crack cocaine to be sold in South Central Los Angeles. (It is based on books by Webb and Nick Schou.)

After the story broke, Webb became a superstar, but later his reporting was widely questioned, by his own paper, and other newspapers. He became unable to find work, and committed suicide in 2004.

“The challenge of making the film was trying to get all that in,” says Cuesta, who recently visited The City.

“This is the story of how he was undone by his own bliss, and a man fighting an unwinnable war. I felt that's the track I want to go on. I want to be on his shoulders — not 'who killed Gary Webb?' and it becomes just a conspiracy movie.”

During filming, Cuesta — who also made the movies “L.I.E.” and “12 and Holding” as well as directed the TV series “Homeland” – continuously checked facts related to the story.

“I had cut some things. We were advised to cut them,” Cuesta says. “We had a D.C. insider saying that the way to not suffer a 'killing the messenger' situation is to not say that. The movie's all about truth and justice. We were very careful not to change history.”

In post-production, Cuesta found two public documents that, basically, allowed the CIA not to acknowledge its association with drug dealers in the 1980s. Webb had found these documents after the fact, and had them on hand when he was promoting his 1999 book “Dark Alliance.”

“I put them up in my editing room, says Cuesta. “I blew them up, both reports. I was like, 'How can I get this into the film?' It's a big vindication, and it's a result of Gary's reporting. He's a watchdog. He made a great sacrifice, I think. He clearly connected some dots and put a spotlight on some truths. He can never prove it. How can you? There's no smoking gun when it comes to the CIA.”

Cuesta says that, more than the CIA story, he wanted to tell the story about how the infighting in the world of journalism destroyed Webb, and how, as a result, the story was forgotten. “I knew the story, but I didn't know the extent of what happened to him,” says Cuesta. “The biggest tragedy is the South Central part of this. They are the victims, and nothing was done.”

IF YOU GO

Kill the Messenger

Starring Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Michael Sheen

Written by Peter Landesman

Directed by Michael Cuesta

Rated R

Running time 1 hour 52 minutes

artsGary WebbKill The MessengerMicheal CuestaMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Lawmaker introduces legislation to kick off creation of Bay Bridge bus lane

Assemblymember Rob Bonta’ s placeholder bill would create ‘sustainable, efficient’ public transit

Student walkout at Aptos highlights concerns about bullying

More than 100 students walked out of Aptos Middle School Friday morning… Continue reading

Thousands of orchids on display at Golden Gate Park

Nearly 30,000 orchids filled the County Fair building at Golden Gate Park… Continue reading

SFUSD educators hit with layoff warning

Superintendent says district faces budget shortfall, depleted reserves

SF to provide $350K to help struggling nonprofit care for youth in crisis

City stopped sending clients to Edgewood Center after sexual abuse allegations emerged

Most Read