Veronica Guerin

Flawed but watchable true life tale of a flawed but courageous Irish reporter ain't the Oscar fodder it hopes to be.

Released in 2003, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 02 Aug 2003 by Craig Eastman
Veronica Guerin image

Bahck in nointeen nointy six there wis this repaaahrtar called Veronica Guerin who wis gahn abhout givin' the local drug deeelers a laht a shoite. She wis printin' crack in the local paiper abhout who wis sellin' shoite ta who an' evenchally the deeelers gat roight pissed ahf abhout it an' had the eejit shaht six toimes in a droive by shoootin'. The 'ole o' Dublin went up in ahrms abhout it cos Guerin wis a well loiked lass an' that, an' evenchally all the goood people kicked the shoite out o' the deeelers an' there's never been any drugs or croime ever again cos Guerin's a saint now and all the bhaaastardin' criminals is in the slammer. Roight. Who stole me lucky charms?

Forgive me if I trivialise a great patriot of a genuinely great nation. I have a lot of love for Ireland and the Irish, but somewhere along the line there's been a little misconception, leading to this piece of Hollywood commissioned fluff invading our cinemas posing as a most righteous documentary about a most righteous woman who magically made everything alright again for the drug-addled city of Dublin. Apparently.

It's easy to see why Hollywood picked on this story. Oscar likes a good bit of drama, and if it's based on a true story then so much the better. Couple it with the American fascination with all things Irish and the frequent, spurious claims of everyone American that they're half Murphy, and the story of the tragic circumstances surrounding Veronica Guerin's death in 1996 suddenly becomes a veritable script magnet. No trouble getting a decent actor on board; Cate Blanchett obviously thought she smelled a golden statue, and to her credit at least nails the accent. Rope in current born-again decent movie maker Joel Schumacher and surely the stage is set for a triumphant expos? on the life and times of a national hero. Err, well, no actually...

The story begins with the events leading up to Guerin's death on that fateful morning. Attending court on charges of speeding, Guerin, a frequent offender on the roads, somehow got off the hook with a ?100 fine for having achieved 104mph on a public road. Just as well she's a cheeky, likeable lass who's got everyone wrapped around her finger, eh? It's nice of the filmmakers to show us Veronica's not exactly perfect herself, but her wreckless endangerment of lives on the road is quickly swept under the carpet as she leaves the court and proceeds to speed back home whilst using her mobile phone. Stopping at some traffic lights, Veronica is oblivious to the motorbike approaching from behind, one of it's riders packing a revolver in his leathers. Pulling alongside her car, the killer shoots Veronica six times at close range and the pair speed off down the motorway.

It was a brutal end for a woman who was, at the end of the day, quite rightly investigating the harrowing Dublin drug scene in an attempt to expose those who were perpetrating the misery of countless families around the city's housing estates. Nobody deserves quite such brutal retribution for doing their job, but as the film takes great pains to point out, Veronica knew the risks and that's why she's such a Big hero. Returning to the start of her investigation, the film charts Veronica's progress from first encountering destitute drug-addicted children in a council housing scheme to her demise upon the apex of her research.

It starts out promisingly enough with the quite harrowing visual of toddlers who can barely even speak sitting in an estate courtyard pretend-injecting themselves with discarded syringes. It might be overplayed a bit (the near-carpet of needles lying on the ground is a bit OTT) but is effective enough where it needs to be, giving us a taste of the outrage later shared amongst Dublin's parents. Somewhere in an abandoned flat a snitch is brought in for punishment by John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley), apparent Kingpin of the Dublin drug scene, resulting in the poor blighter being quite literally nailed to the floor. It's this that sparks Guerin's investigation into Gilligan, although at this early stage he is but a near-anonymous Mr. Big, surfacing only to show face when it's time to remind those on the street just who's in charge.

Veronica Guerin image

Using her contact with local brothel owner John 'The Coach' Traynor (who is himself entangled in the drug scene), Veronica slowly picks the chain of command apart to reach man-at-the-top Gilligan, jeopardising along the way everything she holds dear in her quest to bring these seemingly untouchable men before the law. There's nothing really new here in terms of narrative, the film relying instead on admittedly strong performances to power it along. I shan't pretend to be familiar with Guerin's story since I haven't got the slightest clue, and as such I shall have to take everything the film suggests on faith, so forgive me my ignorance on this matter. It does, however, allow myself (and most viewers who will presumably be in the same boat) the chance to view the film objectively, and I have to say I'm largely underwhelmed by what I see.

The supporting cast are all suitably rendered despite being your usual clich?d drug-dealing lot of brooding menace and snappy black-suited fashion sense. Ciar?n Hinds manages to add quite a bit of depth to Traynor, issuing a palpable sense of self-preserving regret as he transforms from admiring ally to betrayer; both stages a different kind of 'lady killer'. There's a great feeling of unspoken sorrow on his part as, threatened to keep his mouth shut by Gilligan, Traynor tries to put Guerin off the case by having her shot in the leg at her home in order to preserve both his life and hers. The regret is apparent when rather than be put off by this Guerin redoubles her efforts; Traynor is a man who can clearly see how this is going to end long before Guerin herself.

Likewise McSorley paints a picture of Gilligan as a sad, wasted old man unable to control his temper and terrified of the prospect that one day his empire might come tumbling down. Draped in expensive clothes and prostitutes while his bitching wife plays with her horses at their multi-million pound home, Gilligan is a man addicted to his success but unable to actually enjoy it. All manner of menacing support comes from Gilligan's mob and rivals, with nobody coming to mind as particularly needing to pull their socks up, and the only real great disappointment is perhaps Guerin herself.

How accurately Blanchett portrays Guerin I can only take for granted, but the overall impression is of a woman I didn't really care for all that much. Admire her conviction and undeniable courage I certainly do, but as a human being this reviewer finds her a most annoying character. It may well be a decision to add complexity to her character, but Blanchett's portrayal is often grating in it's righteousness while at the same time Guerin is quite blatantly no angel herself. Abrasive and intrusive, blatant and cock-sure, Guerin is undoubtedly imbued with all the qualities of a great reporter but not of a likeable protagonist. The accent is spot on but the incessant "I'm doing it because it's the right thing" attitude becomes something of a tiresome turn-off. With Schumacher's direction seemingly on autopilot, Blanchett's performance is key to the film's drive, and I'm not suggesting it's anything other than a great performance, just that the character is ultimately repelling.

By the movie's inevitable conclusion we've learned little about Guerin other than her admirable drive and courage, her home life a peripheral consideration to primarily sticking her on a pedestal as a saint. It's this kind of glossing over of important development that knocks the film down a peg or two, coupled with Hollywood's seemingly insatiable desire to fill the soundtrack and dialogue with Irish clich?s, lest we forget where it's set.

Come the final reel we haven't really learned much about Guerin that would make us care about her murder. We're expected to feel sorrow purely because of the outpouring on screen, but remorse by proxy is not something I subscribe to. If I care about her I'll feel upset, but I don't in this case. Incidentally, this reviewer wonders how many appreciative parents would have clamoured to line the streets at her funeral had she hit one of their kids whilst doing 108mph in her car whilst talking on the mobile.

Veronica Guerin is a promising film that fails to achieve it's potential because it expects us to care about it's protagonist rather than establishing exactly why we should. Great performances do a lot to help, but there's nothing here to suggest merit above the ordinary, which is a shame given the importance of Veronica's work and the ensuing shake-up of laws regarding drug pushers that her investigation prompted. Dublin may not be disinfected of the drugs scourge as the movie so stupidly suggests in it's closing caption cards, but her work undoubtedly had a massive impact. A shame then that this, the story of her death, fails to achieve the same.

From my island of objectivity I award this movie 3 out of 5 Disko Units.

Joel Schumacher
Cast list:
Cate Blanchett (Veronica Guerin)
Ciar?n Hinds (John 'The Coach' Traynor)
Gerard McSorley (John Gilligan)