Veronica Guerin
review by Paula Nechak, 5 September 2003

Toronto International Film Festival 2003

Shoot the Messenger

When Irish Sunday-Independent journalist Veronica Guerin was assassinated in Dublin in 1996, victim of the drug traffickers she threatened to expose, the world sat up and took notice. Ireland, plagued by poverty and by a criminal element intent upon exploiting and preying upon their poorer brethren, was in the midst of one of the worst drug sieges in its famine-riddled history. Some fifteen thousand a day shot heroin; eight kids under the age of fifteen died in one neighborhood alone - all in short order. The bottom-feeders who made a profit from this miserable plight held no guilt, no remorse - only the desire to reap the bounty at any price.

Veronica Guerin, whose life has also been chronicled on film in When the Sky Falls, which starred Joan Allen, and who received mention in John Boormanıs powerful movie about Martin Cahill, The General, changed Irelandıs lackadaisical drug laws. But it took her death to do it. Director Joel Schumacher, who initially seems too Hollywood polish to pull off such a charged crusader story - unless you recall the political bent of his films Tigerland and Falling Down (and overlook the populist histrionics of Dying Young and St. Elmoıs Fire) - does it on the straight and narrow in this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film.

Itıs an arthouse attempt at legitimacy for Bruckheimer, who is better known for action and war fare. Veronica Guerin is a gritty, smart, tumultuous telling of Guerinıs pugnacious pluck and courage - a force that gave her a radiance and seductive charm which ingratiated her to some of her underworld snitches and sources.

Cate Blanchettıs in the lead as Veronica Guerin, a tireless, relentless woman with a devoted husband, son and mother - and a gaggle of newspaper associates who either hate, love or envy her tough style and ability to ferociously go where no other reporter would dare venture.

Guerin, tired of writing the female fashion story, "wants to make a difference" once she glimpses the dire straits of Dublinıs mean streets firsthand: toddlersı toys consist of broken, diseased syringes that litter the loins of the filthy slums. Mothers suckle their infants while shooting up; a stench and vomit-stained, burned out squat is visited daily by pushers - just long enough for their gleaming new Mercedes to catch a hint of dust and who work for John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley). In synchronized rotation they peel five pound notes off each lost soul dying for a daily fix. "How many five pound notes do you have to get to get a new Mercedes?" cracks Guerin.

But John Gilligan is a dead dangerous silent man pulling the strings behind a drape of betrayals and butchery. Heıs a wizard of odds who wants to remain a behind-the-scenes enigma. Veronica, tired of being led down clue cul-de-sacs and weary of chasing the wrong criminals meets her match in this ex-con thug who fancies himself a sophisticate but instead is an immoral, bloated murderer who thinks nothing of dispensing rivals like "General" Martin Cahill, whom he orders shot to death in front of his own house. The "c--t" reporter Guerin, who threatens his lavish lifestyle, is a thorn in his side.

Blanchett brings a ferocity that is formidable to Veronica, as well as a playful spunk and lifeforce that sometimes chills with its narrow-mindedness. Her seductive play with John "The Coach" Traynor (Ciaran Hinds), a pimp who is tied to Gilligan and feeds Veronica her leads - is fearlessly brazen. Blanchett is, as always, the filmıs anchor and keel, keeping its dark digressions into the drug netherworld on course with her abilty to inhabit Guerin, not simply act her. As playful a mother, daughter and wife as she is a stalwart reporter, she never allows affection to stand in the way of her campaign. Blanchett isnıt afraid to play Guerin as a sometimes selfish, self-centered. sloppily loving woman who is immersed in finding the truth - to the slight of her familyıs well being. Yet Blanchettıs intelligence keeps us hanging in there over a character who is, in her ambitious quest, often less than sympathetic.

Schumacher instills a pervasive sense of dread into Veronicaıs reckless crusade. Because weıre enticed and admire her pluck we wait, worried and nearly nauseous, knowing some violence will be inflicted. Inflicted it is in a wrenching scene when she negligently corners Gilligan in his own backyard and he beats her with unflinching hatred and fear, violating her safety in a way that curdles our stomachs because the stench of that hate and fear is palpably real.

Still, the film is not without its heart. One aching scene shows Veronicaıs lovingly no-nonsense mother Bernie (Brenda Fricker) walking with her grandson. He spies mom on the side of the metro bus: "A life under threat," it reads, next to a blow-up of Veronica who, having survived a bullet in the leg, has become a celebrity in her own right. The sadness of the inevitable crosses Frickerıs face: itıs a moment of supreme portent and omen, a realization of things to come, crimped with the pain over the fact that those who love Guerin are still powerless to stop this martyr in the making.

Veronica Guerin is never preachy in its pilgrimage. It is lean and spare in style, trimmed down from the fat of usual Bruckeimer indulgences to the most pragmatic and determined simplicity. It is more an homage to the tough journalists it honors - and because Blanchettıs ego never gets in the way of her sublime talent the film has the visual and visceral mettle of a documentary, which is the biggest compliment it can be paid.

Toronto International Film Festival Coverage:

Directed by:
Joel Schumacher

Cate Blanchett
Gerard McSorley
Ciarán Hinds
Brenda Fricker
Don Wycherley
Barry Barnes
Simon O'Driscoll
Emmet Bergin
Charlotte Bradley
Mark Lambert
Garrett Keogh
Maria McDermottroe
Paudge Behan
Joe Hanley
David Murray

Written by:
Carol Doyle

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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