Veronica Guerin Movie Review

Before we even get into talking about Veronica Guerin, one thing needs to be made abundantly clear: Cate Blanchett is most likely the greatest actress working in film today. Like pretty much every other performance she has given, Ms. Blanchett (how long it will be before she becomes Dame Blanchett?) buries herself so thoroughly in her role here as a real-life crusading Irish journalist that one wonders how she could ever dig herself out again. As for the movie, it's essentially a vehicle for Blanchett's tour de force performance, and while that's not always a great thing (there are several wasted opportunities in the film) it's not necessarily a bad thing (it stays the hell out of her way).

And from the looks of it, everyone stayed out of Veronica Guerin's way. The real Guerin (her story was previously made as the morose When the Sky Falls, starring Joan Allen) was a star columnist for Dublin's Sunday Independent in the 1990s who decided to start writing about the gangsters behind the explosion of drug trade sweeping across the city. As presented by Blanchett, Guerin was a pretty fearsome, fearless creature, not afraid to simply walk into Dublin's worst slums, stepping over the syringes carpeting the ground, and start asking questions of the junkies and even the dealers. She has a convenient stool pigeon in arch-criminal John "The Coach" Traynor (the marvelous Ciarán Hinds), whom she treats as an underworld rock star of sorts in her column, in exchange for information. It's an education in charm just watching Blanchett stalk into a room, fix on the person she needs to get something out of, be it The Coach, a friendly police detective, or even a member of Parliament, and just about always get what she wants. She's like a bulldozer in a sharp suit. And when Dublin's worst start pressuring her to back off the story - a fist to the face, a bullet through the window of her study - it just adds fuel to the fire.

The film opens with Guerin appearing before a judge for her impressive collection of speeding and parking tickets; having paid the fine, she speeds away in her car, already firing off messages on her cell phone. At home, we see her hunched over her computer, headphones on, practically oblivious to her husband and young son, who don't appreciate her over-involvement in her work, but can't stay angry when she cracks that megawatt smile on them. What's almost most fascinating about this character, and the way she's portrayed by the film, is that in any other (fictional) movie, Guerin would be a man. The dashing, crusading outsider, who loves football and drives like a banshee, with a resentful, terrified spouse at home, and everyone telling her to stop; this is a complex, gender-defiant role that even A-list actresses like Blanchett rarely get to play.

Veronica Guerin also avoids the Erin Brockovich syndrome, in that it refuses to install a halo, even a flawed one, around Guerin's head. She's neglectful of her family, not above flirting with a source, and likely never listened to a single word of advice in her life (yet you'd give up your life story if she sat down and had a drink with you). Also unlike your average Brockovich-style message movie, Veronica Guerin moves like a bullet, clocking in at a lean 98 minutes. There are many more alleys that the film could have gone down, but that would just have given director Joel Schumacher more chances to screw up (this is the man who brought us Bad Company, after all); as it stands, Schumacher gives the film a hard-charging grace, helped considerably by a passionate script and Brendan Galvin's sharp, wintry camerawork. There are a few weak moments where a little more exposition would have given the story more weight, and by the soundtrack-heavy conclusion, many viewers will be suffering from soaring Celtic vocals overload.

Although Veronica Guerin wants viewers to see how unique its titular woman was, and what an amazing impact she had on not just Dublin but all of Ireland, it also drives home an important point about journalists in general. A title at the film's end says that since 1996, 189 journalists around the world have been murdered. Veronica Guerin might have been unique, but what happened to her is unfortunately not.

The DVD adds one deleted scene where Guerin speaks at a government Committee to Protect Journalists -- and footage of the real Guerin at the real Committee. Two audio commentaries (one from Schumacher, one from the writers) are available, as are a pair of making-of documentaries.

And she needs to clean up her freakin' desk!


Veronica Guerin Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2003


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