Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Veronica Guerin / *** (2003)

Defining the spirit of a hero conjures up more than just images of stealth and perseverance, but also those of sacrifice and tragedy. That's because most true heroes, particularly in the movies, are martyrs; their attempts to spur change for the better often come at the cost of their own happiness, even when the price is high enough for them to clearly realize the deadly risks involved. Yet somehow, someway, they shrug off the danger and face the odds head-on, seemingly invulnerable to the threats and almost surprised when their own lives are put in potentially mortal danger. Is it foolishness that guides them? Perhaps. But at the core all they want to do is make a difference, a factor that buries every trace of naivety until it's too late.

Veronica Guerin, an Irish journalist who, in the mid-1990s, took on a high profile drug cartel selling narcotics to underage civilians, was one such person. Driven by her status as a high-profile reporter, she dangled herself in the crosshairs of vengeful criminals for two whole years before she was ultimately murdered by the very group she sought to destroy. This, of course, reinstates the notion that even the bravest of activists are never as safe as they believe, and in Joel Schumacher's new biopic inspired by her life and actions, the rugged exteriors of a determined woman are stripped away, only to reveal even more layers of fearlessness buried underneath. Here, she isn't merely naive and senseless in the push for justice, but almost allured by the fact that she is putting herself at a serious risk.

The movie is driven by a brilliant performance from Cate Blanchett, who becomes Veronica Guerin almost as easily as a caterpillar evolves into a butterfly. Towards the opening of the picture, she wanders into the dank corridors of an abandoned motel, now shelter to hundreds of young heroine addicts, to research for a story she hopes to write on the drug problem in Ireland. She asks questions like any competent reporter, but is secretly horrified by the sights. Shortly after, she joins a picket line of concerned parents marching against the out-of-control drug trafficking, a march that will inevitably grow much larger by the time she takes her findings to the press.

But for Guerin, reporting the facts of these deplorable conditions on the Irish streets is just the first step of the research. In order to fulfill the interest of the readers and expand her credentials as a journalist with the mindset to create chaos, she descends deeper into this world of conflict, seeking specific names and identities that she can connect to the trafficking and thus expose in one of her all-important newspaper write-ups (assuming that Irish law allows her to publish specific names to begin with). Such a task no doubt is met with concern on every side of the fence, even with John Traynor (Ciarán Hinds), a story source and friendly acquaintance with possible cartel connections, who is always warning an undaunted Veronica to watch where she steps, even after there are death threats made and she is shot at in her own home.

Blanchett has been compared to Meryl Streep for the way in which she becomes immersed in such a diverse supply of material, and watching "Veronica Guerin" exemplifies that comparison. Here is an Australian actress who has inhabited the personas of Queen Elizabeth, a New York housewife, a southern clairvoyant, a Polish activist and a pointy-eared elf all in the space of five years (and will no doubt find even more distinctive personas to add to her belt with the upcoming "The Missing" and next year's "The Aviator"). This movie rests entirely on her conviction to penetrate the persona and reveal it on a human level, and she delivers on ever cylinder. Her focused gaze stares back at the enemy without so much as a hint of fear or regret; no, not even when she strides right up to the front door of the suspected drug leader John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley) and demands to know the source of his unexplained wealth. The fact that she drives away from the confrontation bruised and bloody only phases her for a brief duration before she returns to the fray to test other tactics. Perhaps balls that big should be surgically removed.

At the end of the movie, there is a subtle reminder that hundreds of journalists lose their lives each year while on the job, which in turn is preceded by an unnecessary voice-over telling us that Guerin's work influenced much more in Irish society than just exposing the identities of the drug ring. The fact that the information is pertinent to the story's closure is irrelevant, alas; layered with sentiment, the narration treats the events as if no one in the audience would ever actually know of the journalist's heroism unless specifically told. Looking back at every twist and turn that Guerin endured leading up to her untimely demise is more than sufficient enough to see her in the way the movie intends; if she wasn't important, after all, why would anyone have made a movie about her in the first place?

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Cate Blanchett: Veronica Guerin
Gerard McSorley: John Gilligan
Ciarán Hinds: John Traynor
Brenda Fricker: Bernie Guerin
Don Wycherley: Chris Mulligan
Barry Barnes: Graham Turley
Simon O'Driscoll: Cathal Turley

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Ned Dowd, James Flynn, Morgan O'Sullivan, Chad Oman, Eli Richbourg, Pat Sandston, Mike Stenson and Paul Tucker; Directed by Joel Schumacher; Screenplay by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue; based on the story by Carol Doyle

Drama/Crime (US); Rated R for violence, language and some drug content; Running Time - 98 Minutes

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