More so than entertainment, Veronica Guerin clearly is meant to be a salvo for journalists, an anti-cynicism shot showing us a do-gooder whose noble pursuit of truth reminds us why they write.
It tells the story of an Irish journalist whose intensive, intrusive investigations into Ireland’s underground drug trade ultimately got her killed in June 1996.
It’s hard to argue against the do-gooder streak in Guerin, played by Cate Blanchett. Seeing young kids playing with discarded, disease-laden syringes would inspire anyone to speak out against drugs. But director Joel Schumacher’s film gets hung up on — given the end result — just how noble it was. This was, mind you, a wife and mother who kept pursuing the story after being beaten and later maimed by gunfire at point-blank range.
Veronica Guerin mostly is a quiet film, but nowhere near ruminative enough. If Guerin’s real motivation was the ease with which any child (including her own son) could lapse into drug use, we never really feel that. Any real fear she shows for her son’s safety is only after he’s threatened by the drug lords — a moment deep into the film. And if it was an egocentric drive to prove her journalistic mettle against detractors, that’s sort of there, even if it feels unintentional.
If ego was the issue, that point could have been more strongly made than in the scene where fellow writers, credited as “Jealous Journalists 1-4,” mock her on-air appearances as self-publicity. And there’s also the implied, but occupationally incorrect, suggestion that simply because Guerin lacks formal journalistic training, she can’t be a good journalist.
While the narrative feeling is an uneasy balance between insanity (“She knew full well she’d be killed, but didn’t care”) and martyrdom (“She just wanted to save all of Ireland’s youth”), neither slant is a convincing one. Weird territory for blow-stuff-up-real-good producer Jerry Bruckheimer, right? Well, it is about drugs, the ever-sexy cinematic villain, and it’s another opportunity to marry social issues and can-do, heroine empowerment, as he did with Dangerous Minds.
It shares that movie’s annoying instances of rah-rah dialogue and thrown-away opportunities, but what keeps Veronica Guerin from being a total trifle is Blanchett’s strong acting.
If we can’t get the why, she at least does a smashing job of showing us the how. With a pixie haircut and eye constantly cocked with skepticism, Blanchett’s performance is filled with snappy comebacks and saucy stares. And, in some fine moments, we briefly see her vulnerability after the two non-fatal attacks.
Outside of the frightening kingpin (Gerard McSorley) and overconfident drug thug (Ciaran Hinds), the rest of the movie is typical Irish window dressing. As Guerin’s mother, Brenda Fricker is wasted, hired only for authenticated Irishness. When even Colin Farrell, in a cameo, over-accents profanity to the point of long-vowel sounds — it’s a bit much. And Harry Gregson-Williams’ techno-Celtic score is a synthesizer and a key change away from Braveheart.
In a more focused film, Schumacher’s hand-tip to Guerin’s death in the prologue wouldn’t matter. But as we watch the murder unfold, we don’t have a good grasp of why she pursued it to that end. With sweeping Irish hymns, swooping cameras and a montage of people learning of her demise, the scene handsomely is shot and the air of inevitability hangs over it, but it’s too empty. Furthermore, big-ticket narration tries to cover for the lack of detail, saying Guerin “galvanized” Ireland to rise up against crime and “turned the tide” against the drug trade.
It doesn’t need to be like Traffic, so eloquently emphasizing the drug war yields only small victories. But it needs to be more than a surface show of what we know. Drugs are bad, but so is giving up a family and a life without a reason that’s, well, galvanizing.