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In 1994, Dublin, Ireland was a haven for drug traffickers. Pushers were everywhere, from schools to residential neighborhoods. Playgrounds were littered with used syringes and dirty spoons. Every day there were reports of kids as young as fifteen overdosing on heroin, while the drug lords responsible for these tragedies remained beyond the reach of the law.
Enter Veronica Guerin, a resourceful, career-driven journalist with a conscience.
Director Joel Schumacher’s latest movie, Veronica Guerin, is based upon on the life of the Sunday Independent reporter of the same name, a journalist whose investigations proved vital in the war against drugs in Dublin.
The film is the story of her self-imposed mission to clear the streets of drugs and drug pushers, culminating in her brutal death at the hands of gang leaders attempting to protect themselves from the momentum of her crusade. Most important, it is the story of Guerin herself: her character, her motivations, her fears and doubts.
Veronica Guerin succeeds in drawing the audience into the story precisely because it focuses so much on the protagonist. Cate Blanchett’s resplendent performance as Guerin seethes with passion and intensity in every scene, conveying with heart-wrenching emotion both Guerin’s incredible dedication and her fear in the midst of constant death threats by powerful drug-traffickers. It is Blanchett’s skillful portrayal of Guerin which compensates for certain weaknesses in direction, making the movie one worth the price of an admission ticket.
In particular, Blanchett’s nuanced performance effectively conveys the multi-faceted nature of Guerin’s character. As an audience we are drawn to the character because Guerin is simultaneously real and extraordinary. While Blanchett depicts her as a strong, courageous woman fighting for a cause, she is also shown as a mother and wife living in constant fear of reprisal. In the end, we admire her not for her infallibility, but for her ability to dedicate herself to what is right in the midst of incredible opposition. Particularly illustrative is one poignant scene in which Guerin remains determined to continue her work even as she recovers from a recent attempt on her life. Limping towards her car on crutches, she delivers one of the most important lines of the film, saying, “I don’t want to do this. I have to do this.”
The various supporting cast members give memorable performances as well. Ciaran Hinds as John Traynor, Guerin’s inside source, effectively conveys a sense of struggle as he finds himself torn between his loyalty to Guerin and to the world of crime, while Gerard McSorley as drug lord John Gilligan delivers a chilling performance as a ruthless, calculating criminal.
The direction of the film, however, leaves something to be desired. Several scenes seem very artificial and hackneyed, most notably one in which the members of Guerin’s family erupt into a spontaneous dance upon hearing a favorite song. Further, the lack of close-up shots of Guerin’s facial expressions at key moments serve only to distance the audience from the intense emotion on-screen.
Nevertheless, Veronica Guerin is largely character-driven by virtue of its script, distributing much of its weight on the shoulders of its actors. This proves beneficial for the film as it succeeds in that respect, obscuring to some degree the directorial inadequacies of the film.
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