Veronica Guerin (2003)
“Why would anyone want to kill Veronica Guerin?”
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrell, Brenda Fricker
Synopsis: An Irish journalist is assassinated by drug dealers she wrote about in a series of stories.
Presumably Joel Schumacher’s biopic of crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin is supposed to be one of those inspirational movies that leaves its audience marvelling at the courage and tenacity of its heroine. The real Veronica Guerin may well have been such a person, but the character depicted on the screen by Cate Blanchett simply comes across as something of a self-centred glory-seeker who displays alarming moments of bad judgment due to a naivety that is at odds with requirements of her career. How many people, I wondered as I watched Guerin driving away from the mansion of John Gilligan, expect to confront a vicious drugs baron on his doorstep on their own without receiving at least a punch in the mouth?
This is one of those films in which we know from the outset that its heroine dies. Not only because history tells us so, but because Guerin’s assassination occurs during the film’s opening scenes. As she drives recklessly away from a court hearing in which she has somehow escaped a driving ban for ignoring a string of speeding and parking tickets, we immediately pin her as a risk-taker, something that is stressed throughout the movie. Until a couple of years before, Guerin had been working on stories about politics and the church, but she then turned her attention to Dublin’s drugs trade after seeing small children playing with used needles on a run-down housing estate. She questioned a couple of junkies in one of the abandoned flats and then encountered a few of the drug dealers lurking around their gleaming new Mercedes. This kind of cinematic shorthand certainly drives the story along, but it also creates the suspicion that the film is merely skimming the surface of the story — an impression that is strengthened by the sketchy characterisation of everyone but Guerin.
Blanchett makes her character extremely likeable despite Guerin’s blinkered recklessness, and her performance rescues the movie from the blandness that threatens because of its lack of detail. She has a contact in the underworld called John Traynor (Ciaran Hinds), who likes to be known as The Coach and has a little bit of a crush on Veronica. Traynor feeds her tidbits about the drugs trade in the City, but when her investigations start hitting a little too close to him he finds himself under threat of death from big-time drugs gangster John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley) should his name appear in any of Guerin’s reports. McSorley, in an underwritten role which receives too little screen time, also delivers a frighteningly convincing performance as Gilligan who, when Guerin starts getting a little too close to comfort, coldly threatens to kidnap her young son and ‘ride him.’
Guerin’s apparent willingness to jeopardise her family’s safety is another aspect of her character that is difficult to stomach. Twice her home comes under attack from Dublin’s underworld, but these warnings do nothing to deflect her from her mission, and while we do see a couple of scenes in which Guerin’s implacable courage slips under Guerin’s threats we’re given little insight into the sense of conflict between work and family which would affect most people in her situation.
Although Gilligan’s rage over Guerin’s reports is apparent, we see little evidence of any disruption to Dublin’s drugs trade as she roams the City’s fleshpots and bars. In fact, too often she reminds one of an excitable dog chasing after whatever stick Traynor throws her without ever pausing to consider — or even verify — whether the information he’s providing is reliable. Director Shumacher seems to be trying to portray her as both crusader and victim — which, of course, she was — but he does it in such an unflattering way that the sympathy of most people who are unfamiliar with the facts will be lost long before the film returns to her killing.
One aspect that the movie does address well on a couple of occasions is the way in which it is the career villains who seem able to make the most effective use of the law in the way they repeatedly use it to gag the press from reporting on their illegal activities. But this subject is merely an incidental to the main thrust of the storyline which remains frustratingly thin on real detail. It’s not often I argue for a movie to have a longer running time, but Veronica Guerin is a perfect example of a movie that could have done with an extra half-hour.