Review: Veronica Guerin

Cate Blanchett’s strong performance is a central part of biographical film Veronica Guerin’s successful retelling of one woman’s determination to destroy the illegal drug trade in Ireland.

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In 1996, Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was fatally shot while parked at a stop light on a dual carriageway near Dublin, Ireland. For over two years she had been investigating the region’s criminal underworld for Ireland’s Sunday Independent newspaper and, during the course of her research, uncovered evidence implicating a number of individuals who had grown increasingly concerned with her investigation. Following a court appearance for her own speeding tickets, Guerin leaves the courthouse in her distinctive red Opel Calibra car and is followed by two men on a motorbike. Stopping at a red light, the motorbike pulls up alongside the car and one of the riders shoots six times into the vehicle. Guerin dies at the scene.

Joel Schumacher directs this compelling drama about Guerin’s investigative journalism over the course of two years. Beginning with her assassination, the film flashes back to the eager reporter’s determination to shed light on the culprits behind Dublin’s increasing drug problem. Her contacts in the business world lead her to a number of unsavoury characters with entrepreneur John Gilligan seemingly at the top of the criminal network. She receives a stark warning to cease her investigations after approaching Gilligan directly – he savagely beats her but to remain on the story she decides not to press charges. Other warnings take place – first a bullet through her window; later, an intruder shoots her in the leg. But nothing stops her determination to uncover those guilty of running the drug trade in Dublin until the culprits themselves take steps to silence her permanently.

The film’s relatively short running time means Schumacher never lets the pace drop. Of course, for a true story such as this, there is plenty scope for incorporating far more detail but Schumacher, with writers Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue, distils the facts into a drama driven by a dogged journalist’s passion to make a difference while fuelling her own ego. Certainly, one of the more interesting aspects of the film is both the courage and foolhardiness evident in her journalism, as she puts herself (and her family) at risk for her profession.

“A journalist that wants to expose the darker side of society may well need his or her own raging ego to survive and prosper in the first place. It is a necessary evil that allows certain individuals to go places most of us only imagine in our worst nightmares. Guerin is as much a victim of her well-intentioned determination to make a difference in the world, as she is of the bullets that silenced her.”

If the film falls down it is in the caricatured gangsters who are made up of fictional representations of real people or composites of a number of individuals. Ciarán Hinds as John Traynor is the most multi-dimensional, using his relationship with Guerin to divert her attentions away from his boss John Gilligan who he is terrified of. However, Gilligan himself is your typical “nasty piece of work” who has been depicted in British gangster films in some form or other countless times. The same can be said of his gun-toting minions.

Yet, as we’ve come to expect from Cate Blanchett, she rarely misses a beat in bringing characters to life, whether they be fictional or drawn from real life. As Guerin, she depicts the writer’s strong-willed passion to drive a stake through the criminal underworld with suitably credible journalistic flair. This hides fears that become evident only to her closest family, highlighting her undiluted courage to see the story through to the finish. One wonderful scene sees her dancing with her husband and young son after admitting her love for her work. It is a touching sequence that perhaps examples most clearly the dangers of serving one’s ego in this often fraught world of investigative journalism. The conclusion to her own story may suggest she was defeated by her own unwavering persistence, but Guerin’s legacy, that saw a significant decline in the illegal drug trade, shows her bravery was not in vain. Indeed, a journalist that wants to expose the darker side of society may well need his or her own raging ego to survive and prosper in the first place. It is a necessary evil that allows certain individuals to go places most of us only imagine in our worst nightmares. Guerin is as much a victim of her well-intentioned determination to make a difference in the world, as she is of the bullets that silenced her.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Carol Doyle, Mary Agnes Donoghue
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Ciarán Hinds, Brenda Fricker
Released: 2003 / Genre: Drama / Country: UK/USA/Ireland / IMDB

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. ruth Reply

    Schumacher always get a bad rap for being a terrible director as he ruined the Batman movies, but few have seen this one obviously. I think he showed he could direct a suspenseful thriller. I guess it helps when you have a stellar cast like Blanchett. Ciarán Hinds was great in this as well. This is one of my all time fave Blanchett’s roles.

  2. sati Reply

    Great review! I think it’s such an underrated movie and it’s a great shame, I truly think it’s one of Schumacher’s best and one of the finest performances by Blanchett.

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