Monday, May 20, 2013

Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin died a hero. A martyr, perhaps.  She tirelessly chased and reported on the scum who littered Ireland with drugs. She was a real person. She left behind a devoted husband and young child.

Director Joel Schumacher's 2002 biography of Mrs. Guerin, VERONICA GUERIN, attempts to do well by the subject. How can the audience hiss at such a powerful story, of a woman whose single-mindedness brought down a drug lord and many of his staff? At the cost of her life?

As you well know, a noble subject does not necessarily, inherently make a good film. When I saw that Jerry Bruckheimer was the producer, I was far from encouraged. Actually, seeing Schumacher's name did not exactly instill confidence, either. But with Cate Blanchett in the lead and a well selected supporting cast (Ciarán Hinds and Brenda Flicker among them), this had to be worthwhile?

I am not sorry I spent an hour and a half invested in this telling. Location filming in Dublin adds the right authenticity and the movie mostly avoids bombast. Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue's script adequately summarizes the tragedy of Guerin's eventual murder by the thugs of John Gilligan (Gerard McSorely, appropriately frightening) and the events leading up to it, going back 2 years. But to call VERONICA GUERIN "flat" seems so apt.

I cannot blame the actors. No, I suppose Schumacher, employing his typically workmanlike direction is the culprit. But why? When so many other routine (even made for TV) bios are as presented matter of factly but yet still rivet us? What happens in this film to suck the life out of such a compelling story? Does that lead us to the subject herself?

We watch Veronica, who seems more suited to detective work than journalism (though many would doubtless argue that there is little difference in the professions) conduct research late into the evening and neglect her family. She meets with informants and puts her life in near constant peril (even getting shot and savagely beaten at separate times). We respect her cause, but question her parenting and spousal support. You can make the argument that some of us having higher callings, ones at the expense of family time. For Veronica, it is not being a missionary or agent of God, but a crusader for Good.  A more complex film might've considered if those are mutually exclusive pursuits. The cynical might wonder if Veronica was merely the ultimate employee, out to sell more copies of the Sunday Independent.

VERONICA GUERIN has a short running time for this sort of film, which is admirable and ultimately merciful. It would suggest a minimum of unnecessary or prolonged scenes. Despite this, the movie is often sluggish and dull and badly paced. It at times plays like a thriller but even then, fails to thrill.

Then there's the finale, a funeral procession that in real life would be a sobering, fitting tribute. As framed by Schumacher, et al, it is the sort of pomposity I would expect from Hollywood. I was unfavorably reminded of the last sequence of PAY IT FORWARD.

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