Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2003 8:56 pm 
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Let's give the man a pass this time

Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin is a conventional, rather flashy biopic about a fighting Irish journalist who gave her life to expose the role of drug bosses in the disintegrating fabric of Dublin life. Mr. Schumacher has not had an outstanding record as a committed filmmaker and has produced in excess of his fair share of tasteless clinkers, but it’s a bit more difficult than usual to fault him here even if his take errs toward the melodramatic.

Veronica Guerin, played with her usual dash – perhaps too much dash and not enough sweat -- by Cate Blanchett, was murdered by the henchmen of a drug lord named Gilligan, and her death galvanized the public to demonstrate and thus to end the dominance of drug dealers in Dublin. After the demos the Irish Parliament passed a law allowing the assets of suspected drug dealers to be seized, a decisive step that sealed the dealers’ doom, or so the movie tells us. Cate’s Irish accent is pretty good. Is she like the real Guerin? She seems a bit too pretty and delicate for that. Nonetheless her performance is splendidly adept. The movie gives away that Guerin was murdered right at the beginning so I'm not revealing any secrets; it's even in the trailers.

The colors are highly saturated: the gangster’s uniform black leather jackets go deep and dark. This is a colorful, good-looking film. Veronica was fearless, or, as her mum says, learned not to show her fear. She was bold, she was courageous, and even when she was shot in the leg, badly beaten by Gilligan himself, and threatened with the kidnapping of her little son Erin, she still went on with her crusade against the druglords. It was after getting off with only a £100 fine for £1800 worth of traffic tickets, driving back from a country courthouse, that she was followed and fatally shot by Gilligan’s men. Her death became more important than her life, because of the effect it had.

This is the story. There is no subtlety to the presentation of Veronica. Blanchett makes her cheerful, daring, elegant and unflappable except when she’s horribly menaced or assaulted, when she staggers a bit. What we do see is that she brings pain to those around her as well as herself, to her mother, her husband, even her colleagues and boss. In a good cause, of course. But the moral issue is there: that the crusader against unscrupulous foes may also be a selfish person in the sense that she chooses willingly to drag others into danger with her. There are hints (a string of front-page stories, a huge poster on a bus) that Veronica eagerly sought fame for itself and got it, and that her life was an uneasy mixture of personal saintliness and the reckless endangerment of others. Schumacher’s version of her life doesn’t make any choices. He highlights the recklessness, and then canonizes Guerin in a sentimental final sequence. Instead of dwelling so much on either possibility, he might have gone into more detail about how an investigative reporter really works as well as what the Irish druglords' actual histories were.

Schumacher may be most remembered for a couple of Brat Pack movies, St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) and Flatliners (1990). He has a taste for sensationalism and courtroom drama, but has tended to alternate disastrous pop clinkers like Batman & Robin (1997), 8MM (1999), and Flawless (1999) with attempts to garner credibility like Tigerland (2000), with its mild antiwar posturing, or the faux-profound Falling Down, with Michael Douglas as an unemployed worker in L.A. who goes berserk in protest against the vague wrongs of modern life. He has seemed more at home and more successful with a good, hokey thriller like the well acted The Client (1994) or his recent Phone Booth (2002), a vehicle for the young Irish-born action star, Colin Farrell, than with anything having potential social significance or intellectual content.

Coming from a director who seems most notable for flashy mediocrity, Veronica Guerin is a surprisingly decent effort. It lacks the melancholy grandeur of the Godfather epics or the stylish ironies of neo-noir and it isn’t the least bit intellectually challenging, but for what it is it’s clean and it packs a punch. UK writers, however, have pointed to another, Irish film version of Guerin’s story (which I have not seen) as superior, and have dwelt on the conventionality, melodrama, and sentimentality of Schumacher's effort. Is that why it seemed like an unusually glossy and ultimately forgettable TV drama? It played in England this summer and showed at the Montreal Festival last month; it opens October 17, 2003 in the US. It may fare better critically in the US than it did in England. With Jerry Bruckheimer as the producer, it would seem fated to do well at the American box office. --Well, that's not fate, that’s money!

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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