Veronica Guerin was a real-life Dublin journalist whose sensationalistic (we’re talking British Isles press here) exposes of the Irish drug trade shocked the nation, leading to her murder and sweeping reforms of Irish drug-enforcement laws. That much is true, but don’t go to director Joel Schumacher’s by-the-numbers biopic expecting to learn anything more than that — particularly what made the woman tick.
I thought it quite impossible that Schumacher and producer Jerry Bruckheimer could possibly outdo the pointless tedium of the Anthony Hopkins-Chris Rock action comedy Bad Company, but darned if they didn’t pull it off here. This is the kind of biopic that gives the genre a bad name — a lazy, sketchy, thoroughly uninvolving, cliche-riddled mess that masquerades as significant because it’s “real.” Well, Veronica Guerin was real, but Veronica Guerin is mostly just real boring.
It isn’t so much that this movie does all your thinking for you; it’s rather that the film doesn’t think at all, and works on the assumption that neither will you. In other words, Veronica Guerin is the sort of thing that Schumacher and Bruckheimer do best — it’s every crusading journalist movie you ever saw with all the drama removed.
I suppose that opening the movie with Guerin’s murder and then following the events that led up to her death was an attempt to hook the viewer and downplay any traditional notions of tragedy. And with a more thoughtful, detailed or probing screenplay than the one by Carol Doyle (Washington Square) and Mary Agnes Donoghue (White Oleander), that might have worked; here it simply neuters the film. What we get instead are the facts and nothing but the facts, ma’am — and the ultimate martyrization of Guerin becomes shocking only because it seems miraculous that no one shot her before they did. In fact, the movie is so much about her as a martyr and not as a person that it might have been subtitled One Hour Martyrizing, like some mystifying, quick-dry-cleaning process for sainthood.
Veronica Guerin as presented in the film comes across like the world’s most spurious journalist. She gets involved in the drug story after one encounter with the problem, which apparently so outrages her that she opts then and there to rid Ireland of its drug lords. Strangely, this simplistic approach manages to suggest less a call to greatness than a shameless bid for self-promotion. Whether that could truly be said of the real Guerin, I don’t know; however, the film wants to have it both ways, since it never criticizes this aspect of her character and clearly wants the viewer to feel both saddened by her death and uplifted by her sacrifice.
There’s never much sense of moral outrage on Guerin’s part, and all of her motivations seem grounded in some vague idea that she’s a journalist — something that apparently excuses raging stupidity and arrogance, and some pretty dubious fact-gathering methods. Nearly everything the woman writes comes from second-hand information from an underworld informant (Ciaran Hinds, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life). None of it is checked out, and a great deal of it is ultimately being fed to her to deliberately lead her down the garden path — not exactly the stuff of which great journalism is made (but exactly the sort of thing that keeps making her come across like a depiction of Amateur Night in Dublin).
So, armed with nothing but ego and the fact that she’s a journalist, Guerin decides to beard the real drug kingpin (Gerard McSorely, Bloody Sunday) in his lair, brazenly asking him the source of his income. She’s then surprised when he beats the crap out of her and calls her — roughly 36 times — that word that tends to paralyze American audiences. Now, his response might be a soupcon extreme, but why she — or the viewer — expected anything remarkably different, I can’t imagine. But that’s the level this movie operates on.
Veronica Guerin would work as a critique of its subject’s unbelievable naivete, except that the film is ultimately a wayward valentine that insists on telling us how shattered we are by its subject’s murder, then following that event with a montage of the rest of the cast reacting appropriately to her demise as a mournful Celtic ballad plays — then following all that with endless titles that manage to suggest that Guerin’s death brought drug trafficking in Ireland to a grinding halt. Yes, it really is as simplistic and shallow as that.
In the minor plus column, Cate Blanchett copes gamely with all the “faith and begorrah” dialect requirements, though the fact that the screenplay never really manages to give her a real character to play makes it all for naught.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke