Veronica Guerin Movie Review
In 1996, high-profile anti-drug crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was violently gunned down in broad daylight at a highway crossing. The event galvanized the island nation, resulted in a sweeping take-back-the-streets campaign in the Dublin slums and led to constitutional changes allowing the freezing of assets and seizure of "unexplained wealth" from suspected drug kingpins.
But Guerin's one-woman uphill battle against the nation's deeply entrenched criminal element might seem like the stuff of TV movies if it weren't for the warmth and tenacity of Cate Blanchett's beautifully well-rounded starring performance and the unblinking starkness of director Joel Schumacher's gritty account of the events leading to her death.
"Veronica Guerin" doesn't paint its subject as a saintly heroine, but as a the inexperienced investigative reporter she was, driven more by dogged fearlessness than journalistic savvy (she'd been a writer of human interest features and church scandal stories). The always sublime Blanchett ("Elizabeth," "Heaven") captures her character's beloved motherhood, her matter-of-fact compassion for the slum-dwelling young victims of Mercedes-driving heroine pushers, and her a gift for cutting to the bone with bold stories that do everything but name names (which she couldn't do under the nation's strict libel laws).
While Schumacher fails to provide much background on his subject (according to the film she was ostracized by more "respectable" journalists, but we're not really told why) and tells us nothing about her as a writer, he doesn't shy away from her seat-of-the-pants reliance on dodgy, sometimes misleading sources and how her growing public profile may have emboldened her impulsiveness to a dangerous degree.
In three separate scenes she walks right up to drug kingpins' front doors, knocks insistently and begins asking pointed questions. "I need a favor from ya," she tells one, in her working-class Irish accent. "I need the names of the kids that sell drugs for ya. And I'll do you a favor: I won't print those rumors that you're having babies with your wife's sisters."
One of them tells her later, "You've been to my house. Maybe it's about time I visited yours." Another simply beats her to a pulp. Schumacher makes it abundantly clear that these men (two played most memorably by Ciaran Hinds and Gerard McSorley) are all ruthlessly dangerous men.
At 92 minutes, "Veronica Guerin" has a tendency to shorthand parts of its subject's life. After one scene of boiling frustration, her husband's fretfulness for her welfare and for the safety of their young son becomes little more than a footnote. And Schumacher doesn't put much of a stylistic signature on the film, even falling back on tiresome, overworked shaky-cam blurs for the inevitable murder scene.
But as the credits roll and an epilogue extols Guerin's legacy, you're provided with a visceral sense of why "everyone in Ireland remembers where they were when they heard Veronica Guerin was killed." If a biographical film about a historical figure can illustrate what a person's life ultimately meant -- and what it meant to those left behind -- that's a powerful accomplishment.