Imperfect she might have been, but the brash Irish journalist depicted in Veronica Guerin deserves admiration for her persistence and courage. Starring Cate Blanchett and based on the true-life story of a woman who brought down the drug barons of Dublin, this biopic is tough to watch, mostly because we know from the beginning it ends in Guerin's assassination. And Blanchett's brilliant performance adds to the film's disturbing ambience by making everything seem so real.
Because of my Irish roots, I know something about the stubborn bravery of Irish women. When she was only 14 years old, my grandmother stowed away on a boat (all by herself) to come to America from Ireland. Later, as a young mother, she was left with four children to raise when her husband died after being run over by a crane in a steel mill. She used the company's settlement to establish a number of businesses on Bay State Avenue, a street adjacent to the mill. Surviving Prohibition and the Great Depression, Josephine Bridget Donahue became known as the "Duchess of Bay State." No one messed with her. Maybe it was that charming brogue -- but, more likely, her relentless approach to the task at hand kept enemies at bay.
Like my grandmother, Veronica Guerin was relentless in pursuit of her goals. Unfortunately, she was also reckless. As an investigative reporter for the Sunday Independent, she became obsessed with exposing the people responsible for ruining the lives of so many young children. To get the facts for her articles, she confronted gangsters and drug dealers. Ignoring their threats as well as the concerns of her family, friends and co-workers, Guerin continued her crusade. Did she enjoy the notoriety and the fame that came with it? No doubt. But, mostly, she seemed to like living on the edge -- even to the point of putting herself, her son and her husband in jeopardy.
In one interview, Blanchett (Bandits) explained there are two ways of looking at Guerin's behavior. "You could say, how could she have done that? How crazy, why didn't she turn back? Or -- what an incredible belief system she had and how important it must have been for her to say, 'If I don't do this, no one's going to be safe, and I'm certainly not either.'"
Australian-born Blanchett prepared for her role by studying Guerin's television and radio interviews, reading her newspaper articles, and spending time with the people who knew her. As a result, Blanchett's performance captures the true essence of the Irish icon. Her brogue never falters, and her acting -- from those flippant one-liners and mock flirtations to her terrified expression while being shot in the leg by an unknown assailant -- always seems genuine.
Although this dark drama belongs to Blanchett, other cast members also excel. Playing Guerin's mother, Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot) poignantly melds frustration and compassion for a headstrong daughter during her limited time on camera, while Ciaran Hinds (Lara Croft: Cradle of Life), as Guerin's key informant, makes his character dance intriguingly between fascination and hate for the bold reporter. Portraying the main villain, Gerard McSorley (Bloody Sunday) explodes with all-consuming rage in the film's most violent scene.
No-nonsense direction by Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth), a non-sugar-coated script by Carol Doyle (Washington Square) and Mary Agnes Donoghue (White Oleander), and haunting Irish background music help to create a movie free of the usual biopic schmaltz.
I've read that Guerin's brutal assassination saddened most people living in Ireland in the same way Princess Diana's death devastated the English. After seeing Veronica Guerin, now I know why.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "R" for violence, adult language and drug content.)