In this film, Jeremy Renner plays a small-time journalist who stumbles onto a story much bigger than anything he’s ever discovered before: the wholesale trafficking in illegal drugs by the U.S. Government. It’s a true story and it’s set in 1996, but it’s important to realize that the film is set at that point in time only because that’s when it really happened; the movie desperately wants to be set in the seventies. It’s a throwback to the conspiracy thrillers of that time in tone and style and look. Anyway, I’ll show my hand here; I loved this movie. Renner is as charismatic and interesting as ever and this is one of his better performances to date, particularly as the film winds to a close. The supporting cast is just pure gold: Paz Vega as the sexy, vivacious wife of a drug lord; Tim Blake Nelson as an awkward, in-over-his-head lawyer; Michael Sheen as a frightened Washington bureaucrat; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Renner’s harried, frustrated editor; Oliver Platt as Winstead’s pragmatic boss; Andy Garcia as an aging drug lord; and, last but certainly not least, Ray Liotta as . . . well, no spoilers from me.
Anyway, this film has the nasty cynicism (and I mean nasty in the best possible way) of a seventies thriller and this isn’t a movie about crusading journalists finding the truth in a victory for American freedom. It’s a movie about the track to destruction you find yourself on when you buck a government that wants its secrets kept, not revealed. As such, it’s incredibly timely. The treatment of Gary Webb in this film is right along the same lines as the treatment people like Julian Assange & Glenn Greenwald have faced in recent years (and continue to face). As the film progresses, it becomes more and more infuriating. By the end of the film, I was seething with helpless rage and absolute disgust. It’s a movie that emotionally affected me quite profoundly and deeply. And, yes, like all those movies about real stories, this one ends with on-screen text explaining what happened to the people involved in this story. Stick around for that; it’s the vicious sucker-punch that finally puts you out for the count. In short, this is a superlative crime-thriller, a superlative personal drama and a superlative protest film. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – cynical, bleak throwback to the seventies conspiracy thrillers engages on all levels; a great ensemble and a dark, merciless script create an infuriating and disturbing look at government malfeasance. 4 stars.