The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’ Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s words embody the whole of Veronica Guerin, an Irish journalist who tackled Dublin’s prevalent drug problem. ‘Veronica Guerin,’ a film directed by Joel Schumacher (‘Batman Forever’) and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (‘Pearl Harbor’), takes the viewer on the fast track in telling Guerin’s story.
Based on a true story, the film paints 1994 Dublin as an apocalyptical wasteland where used needles scatter every square inch of ground and teenagers waste away with their five pounds of heroin. It was a time in Ireland when 14,000 people were heroin users and addicts as young as 14 were taken into drug rehab. After witnessing such horrors, a journalist from Dublin’s top-selling newspaper, Sunday Independent, named Veronica Guerin (Cate Blanchett) challenges Dublin’s most notorious drug lords.
Guerin sought out these criminals and exposed them during a time when the Irish police were impotent, Parliament turned a blind eye and Dublin’s citizens refused to recognize the problem. Her news reporting soon becomes a crusade in hunting down the greedy and violent crime boss John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley). She is supported by her husband Graham Turley (Barry Barnes), her mother Bernie Guerin (Brenda Fricker) and her editor Aengus Fanning (Emmet Bergin), who realizes that there is nothing they can do or say to stop Guerin. She gathers her material from sources such as police official Chris Mulligan (Don Wycherly) and limelight-loving ‘shady’ businessman John Traynor (Ciaran Hinds), Guerin’s main contact in the underworld. However, it is soon learned that Traynor is partners with Gilligan.
He tries to steer Guerin away from Gilligan’s drug empire by providing her with misleading information. But fearless Guerin is determined to expose the man who is responsible for the growing drug overdose death rate in Dublin. She meddles in perilous affairs, resulting in an assassination attempt on her life, but Guerin still is unwilling to back down.
‘Veronica Guerin’ is a powerful film. The heart races as the story unfolds. Blanchett is superb in her title role with a perfect Dublin accent and headstrong approach to the character. She humanizes Guerin, who not only was a brave journalist, but also a loving mother, daughter and wife. The cast, mostly compiled of Ireland’s most talented, gives gripping performances that are not overshadowed by Blanchett.
The screenplay by Carol Boyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue is nitty-gritty, and the cinematography never skips a moment to pound the viewer with powerful images of a seedy crime underworld. It is refreshing to see the reversal of roles, where the husband is supporting his wife and not vice versa. Guerin tramples on what is still considered a ‘man’s world’ but she never shows her fears to others.
There are moments in the film when the viewer gets to see Guerin’s more vulnerable, scared side, which reminds us that she is human after all. Critics would say Guerin was reckless and foolhardy, ignorant of the danger she was getting herself into, but friends of Guerin would refute such accusations, saying that Guerin believed in her work and persevered to change Ireland.
However, no film can be perfect, and ‘Veronica Guerin,’ as good as the film is, still had its flaws. As much as the story encompasses Guerin’s work and the two years of her investigating, it never goes much into detail of what kinds of stories she was publishing in the newspaper. The viewer sees only the ’cause and effect’ of her actions but never the formulated stories of them.
As drugs is the topic of the movie, the viewers also only get to see how hateful and greedy the drug lords are, but not much of what they were essentially doing in fueling the drug problem. One may wish to have more focus on Guerin’s work because it can only be inferred from the headlines and titles of articles listed by Guerin herself in conversation.
A deeper exploration of what Guerin was reporting on would have been appreciated. Though the film had an excessively sentimental ending, overall, ‘Veronica Guerin’ is a film that moves the viewer and venerates Guerin’s fearless efforts to change a corrupt Ireland and reform a system so drug lords are no longer cheating the system.
If you are in the mood for a fast paced drama that will keep you at the edge of your seat, this film will do the trick. Director Joel Schumacher does an excellent job portraying Guerin’s crusade without being too emotional or fluffily dramatic. An uncompromising film that does nothing to mitigate the reality of its subject matter, it will leave you disturbed by the drug underworld, which is an international crisis not limited to Ireland. This grim but hopeful overview of the modern age will surely give you insight on what kinds of people are responsible with the growth of drug-use in the world. It also presents the story of one brave woman who was unwilling to back down and let the bad guys win
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