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Veronica Guerin (2003)

Why would anyone want to kill Veronica Guerin?

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

It is easy to dismiss Joel Schumacher as little more than a purveyor of braindead blockbuster trash, responsible as he is for the two worst ‘Batman’ sequels and for the jaw-droppingly preposterous ‘8mm’ – but he has also been involved in some far quirkier and edgier fare, ranging from ‘Flatliners’ to ‘Falling Down’, from ‘Tigerland’ to ‘Phone Booth‘. His latest film is definitely in the latter category – based on the true story of Dublin journalist Veronica Guerin, it begins with her murder in June 1996, and then retraces the previous two years during which her dogged investigations into local drug barons won her celebrity and enemies in equal measure.

The film ‘Veronica Guerin’ is, just like the journalist herself, determined not to allow criminals to be glorified or glamorised in any way, and it implicitly criticises two recent Hollywood biopics on Dublin crime lord Martin Cahill (‘The General’ and ‘Ordinary Decent Criminal’) for their relatively favourable portrayal of their subject and his associates. In Schumacher’s film, Cahill makes an early appearance as an unmitigated psychopath; and the MP Tony Gregory (Garrett Keogh) complains to Guerin that ‘You call these guys the General, the Viper, the Monk, you glorify them – they’re not movie stars!’. ‘Veronica Guerin’, on the other hand, pulls no punches, showing the disastrous effects that drug crimes have on the community, and exposing the criminals themselves as self-serving, murderous thugs rather than lovable rogues. In the two scenes in which Guerin finally hears from the gang leader she has been pursuing, John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley) – once at his front door, and once when he calls her late at night – he is genuinely, charmlessly terrifying.

So ‘Veronica Guerin’ is unusually responsible in its presentation of career heroin dealers, giving the lie to the claim that they are ‘ordinary decent criminals’ (although it is somewhat less responsible in its accepting portrayal of IRA activities, and in its implication that the IRA is not involved in drugs). The film is even more interesting, however, in its portrayal of Veronica Guerin herself. In another extraordinary performance by Cate Blanchett, Guerin is shown to be an exceptionally passionate, driven woman, but as the stakes get higher, and the threats aganst her life and her family become more explicit, it becomes less and less certain whether she is motivated merely by the justice of her cause, or by something more idiosyncratic. Is it really just the suffering of young people on housing estates, ravaged by drugs, that spurs her on, or do the hard men of Dublin hold, as the film hints, a certain attraction to sports-loving, plain-talking Guerin, enabling her to feel like one of the boys? This ambiguity in her character prevents most of the film from slipping into the kind of two-dimensional hagiography with which it ends, and goes some way to making up for the many annoyingly sanctimonious family scenes. Sure they represent the domestic bliss which she stands to lose, but in the end she refuses to stay away from the brothels, dockyards, pubs and other criminal hangouts where she feels equally at home.

It's Got: Colin Farrell in a cameo as a tattooed Cantona fan called Spanky McSpank

It Needs: less flute music (we KNOW the setting is Ireland, already), a more considered approach to the IRA


An investigative film about a flawed investigative journalist.