Culture

Hollywood Takes a Double Dose of Narco-Conspiracy with 'Kill the Messenger' and 'Power of the Dog'

Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters © 2013 - Paramount Pictures
Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters © 2013 - Paramount Pictures

The illicit relationship between the CIA and the drug trade in urban ghettos, which first came to light in the mid ‘90s thanks to Gary Webb’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series of investigative pieces in the San Jose Mercury News (now compiled here), has always been rich in the kind of intrigue and high-level corruption seemingly made for a big screen "Godfather"-like epic. But the revelations that came to light in Webb’s work were so controversial and the circumstances surrounding his subsequent suicide so tragic, this was one government scandal even Hollywood was afraid to touch. Steven Soderbergh touched upon these themes in "Traffic," but Webb's story has yet to be told in all its tragic detail.

But now it appears that the film biz is making up for lost time with today’s news that it’s developing not one but two films dealing with the fallout and failure of the War on Drugs. The first, “Kill the Messenger,” is a Webb biopic that stars Jeremy Renner as the enterprising and fearless journalist whose series of bombshell articles uncovered a conspiracy to arm the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in order to import and sell cocaine for profit in California. Webb's pieces generated a fierce counterattack from the government and caused the paper to discredit his reporting, permanently tarnishing his reputation as a journalist and ending with his suicide eight years later. Adding to the epic tragedy of Webb's life story: In the years since his death, reporters for other papers have pursued similar leads and validated Webb’s sensational claims that the government played a role in the crack epidemic of the ‘80s. Former journalist Peter Landesman wrote the script to be directed by “Homeland” helmer Michael Cuesta.

The second narco-conspiracy project, “Power of the Dog,” is based on Don Winslow’s bestselling novel, which tracks the interwoven links between the DEA, Tijuana drug kingpins, a New York hitman, a Catholic priest and a teenage hooker. Today, Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, the writing team behind the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the Oscar-nominated  “A Royal Affair,” signed on to adapt the novel (with Shane Salerno) while Arcel will tackle directing duties.

Though Oliver Stone’s recent rendering of Winslow’s “Savages” (poorly) covered similar terrain, The Power of the Dog is considered to be the writer’s strongest work and offers a much more comprehensive view of the network of corruption and violence involved in importing recreational drugs into the US. Casting has yet to be announced. But the film will feature a choice role for a young actress capable of threading the needle between tough and tender, mercenary and merciful. Jennifer Lawrence would be an obvious choice but she may already too old for the role. We’d place our bets on Chloe Grace Moretz.

What are your thoughts on why Hollywood has suddenly started trafficking in these fascinating narco-conspiracies that have gone ignored too long?