- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

“Veronica Guerin” is energized and individualized to some extent by a nervy, charismatic performance from Cate Blanchett, cast as the title character, a Dublin newspaper reporter assassinated in 1996 in retaliation for her exposure of the city’s drug lords.

This crime concluded a cycle of warnings and reprisals, progressing from a bullet through the window of Miss Guerin’s home to a point-blank bullet in her thigh and a beating administered by one of her principal targets, the publicity-shy and vindictive John Gilligan, portrayed as a kind of neanderthal Anthony Hopkins by Gerard McSorley. An assault charge stemming from that encounter was pending in the courts when Miss Guerin was slain.

The recklessness of the heroine is established as a gallant character flaw from the outset, which shows her speeding away from a courtroom after getting off lightly for a collection of speeding tickets. While reporting the favorable verdict to friends over a cell phone, she is fatally shot while stopped at a traffic light. The assassins travel by motorcycle to facilitate their hit-and-run mission. Bizarrely, director Joel Schumacher returns to the scene of this crime during the finale, even depicting it elaborately from the perspective of the hit squad.

Apart from accentuating the morbid and painful, it’s difficult to justify this ill-timed shift of perspective from heroine to villains. Mr. Schumacher even lingers over the spectacle of Veronica’s fatal wounds from an overhead angle that peers through the skylight of her car.

Joel Schumacher is a well-meaning American outsider. His emotional commitment to this chronicle might originate in his own struggle with drug addiction, confessed long ago. He resolved to break its hold on the last day of the 1970s by burying his drug paraphernalia somewhere in Central Park. However, Mr. Schumacher does little to clarify the social, institutional and journalistic worlds of Dublin for ignorant outsiders.

In documenting any lives, real or fictional, movies often botch their summarizing obligations. Lives are experienced day by day. Movies typically condense the process to a couple of hours. This disparity frequently leaves spectators at a disadvantage. It’s aggravated here by the fact that one may not have kept up with Irish current events during the 1990s. Likewise, Veronica Guerin’s writing style and particular tabloid publication, the Sunday Independent, remain mysteries despite token attempts to observe her toiling over a hot computer and haggling with an editor.

The film suggests that her grandstanding antagonized rival reporters. This area of conflict might have been usefully exploited for a contradictory perspective, but the filmmakers are content to brush it off as barroom professional envy. Miss Guerin, who was married and the mother of a young son, made it a practice to cultivate criminal informants and appeal to their vanities by assigning them nicknames when their information was woven into her stories. Ciaran Hinds is cast as the principal informant, John Traynor, a whoremonger and Gilligan underling who appears to assume that Veronica is attracted to vice in ways that will ultimately add her to his stable in some respect.

It doesn’t hurt basic human interest to perceive Cate Blanchett’s crusader as a woman whose attraction to risk and peril is unappeasable, for reasons that remain impossible to explain. Miss Blanchett makes the nosy, smartly dressed Veronica extremely attractive — but also unwary in ways that portend calamity, given the sort of mean streets and mean blokes she writes about.

She also registers a distinctive sense of shock when terrorized or wounded, as if some innate feeling of invincibility had left her unprepared for such assaults. The movie seems a little daft for acting as if the same old Veronica would bounce back from the leg wound and the beating. It makes Veronica look simple-minded.

What we’re left with, finally, is a daunting and humbling sort of protagonist who gets elevated to cinematic sainthood in a context that remains superficially observed at best and luridly sensationalized at worst. Nevertheless, watching Cate Blanchett on any pretext has become a good reason for keeping up with new movies.

**

TITLE: “Veronica Guerin”

RATING: R (Frequent profanity, occasional graphic violence and sexual candor, fleeting nudity, episodes about drug dealing and addiction)

CREDITS: Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue. Cinematography by Brendan Galvin. Production design by Nathan Crowley. Costume design by Joan Bergin. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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