Crusaders are tough to live with but impossible to ignore, a fact Cate Blanchett demonstrates with panache and charm as she captures the larger-than-life persona of Ireland’s most famous journalist, Veronica Guerin.
Relentlessly prodding police inspectors, speeding off to secret meetings with boastful criminals, appearing unannounced at a drug lord’s sprawling country estate, Blanchett commands the attention of the camera just as Guerin once commanded that Ireland take notice of its growing heroin problem.
Blanchett’s Veronica is a mesmerizing, complicated force of nature in this true-life tale: A loving mother, yet so engrossed in her work that she forgets about her husband and young son. An independent, modern woman, yet not above flirting with criminals to get the information she craves. An investigative whiz who can figure out how drug money is laundered in a complicated real estate transaction, but refuses to use the same logic to acknowledge simple, direct death threats.
“I’m the only Guerin in the phone book,” her brother reminds her, trying to get Guerin to face up to the risk she created for her family.
A historic moment
Guerin’s slaying stands as a touchstone moment in Ireland’s history — everyone can remember exactly when they heard the news, and politicians never acted so quickly to pass tougher laws allowing police to seize drug assets.
What is most surprising is not that Guerin was killed by drug lords, but that she was not killed sooner.
Ireland apparently missed the horrific bloodletting that Colombian drug lords wreaked upon their homeland and the United States over crack cocaine. It’s almost quaint to think that in the late 1990s, a well-dressed reporter in a flashy red car could drive up to a needle-strewn apartment block in Dublin and ask questions about who is selling what drugs without fear of being gunned down.
But that’s what Guerin did, in an era when other Irish reporters relied on the fax and the telephone, stuck close to their cluttered offices or ignored the subject altogether.
Blanchett’s whirling diva is supported by a whole cast of Irish all-stars, including Gerard McSorley as the drug kingpin, Ciaran Hinds as his flashy, spotlight-craving underling and Brenda Fricker as Guerin’s mother. McSorley is explosive and menacing, and his beating of Guerin is probably why the movie earned an R rating.
Barry Barnes, as Guerin’s patient husband, shows what she has to lose in this anti-drug crusade.
Dublin could practically be listed as another character in the film. Director Joel Schumacher skipped the city’s well-known tourist haunts to find its moody, gritty streets, its rusty industrial port, its bleak public housing blocks. Overcast, rainy skies mirror the crumbling gray concrete of the city’s slums and the despair of its residents.
Schumacher tells the story in a series of forboding flashbacks, as Guerin is drawn deeper and deeper into the city’s underworld. What Robert Redford did for journalists in “All The President’s Men,” Blanchett does for a new generation.