Directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Ciaran Hinds, Barry Barnes and Brenda Fricker.
This could have been a complete disaster. A true story of a journalist murdered in the line of duty? Set in Ireland? It's the type of material that US filmmakers usually destroy, sensationalising the story beyond recognition and piling on the old chestnuts from the island of saints and scholars. Throw in the name of Jerry Bruckheimer, the most successful producer in Hollywood history, and the words 'oh' and 'no' pummel the thought structures like any given Bruckheimer blockbuster.
'Veronica Guerin', thankfully, is made of far sterner stuff. Well-made, superbly acted and, for the most part, tightly written and structured, this is a worthy legacy to a remarkable chapter in Irish life.
26 June, 1996. To many Irish people it is a date as firmly etched in the memory as 22 November, 1963 or 11 September, 2001. At the very least, everybody in Ireland remembers where they were seven years ago when word filtered through that Veronica Guerin, Ireland's foremost crime journalist, had been brutally slain on the outskirts of Dublin. It is the minutiae of this murder which form the beginning and end of Joel Schumacher's film - with everything in between serving to highlight the impact Veronica Guerin had not only on Irish journalism, but on the cultural and political fabric of mid 90's Ireland.
The most crucial aspect of the film - and one in which it succeeds commendably - is in the characterisation of Guerin herself. What could have ended up as shameless hagiography emerges as an honest attempt to get to grips with a complex individual. On the one hand we have Guerin's bravery in exposing Ireland's main criminal players; on the other we see her recklessness in pursuit of the bad guys with scant regard for her family, her friends and, most of all, herself. There is even a slight sense that hubris had a part to play in her demise. It is this fine line that anchors the story in the realm of credibility, allowing the narrative to explore Guerin's relationship with family, colleagues, the Gardaí and the criminal fraternity itself.
The winning characterisation is enhanced by a riveting performance by Cate Blanchett in the title role. Long known as a chameleon-like actress who can turn her attentions to any role, Blanchett delivers a tour-de-force performance with a near-flawless Dublin accent. The tenacity, stubbornness and earthy charm we all associate with Veronica Guerin is played to perfection by the Australian, while the fact that she also convinces us on a cosmetic level is a further endorsement.
Around her, Blanchett is well-served by a uniformly solid supporting cast. Best of all are Ciaran Hinds as the vain, shifty John 'Coach' Traynor, and Gerard McSorley as the cold, clinical John Gilligan. Schumacher protégé Colin Farrell also makes an appearance - in a funny if totally pointless cameo.
Perhaps the most disappointing legacy here is the quality of the soundtrack. Sinéad O'Connor in quasi sean-nós mode, 'The Fields of Athenry' sung by a child and various Irish trad tunes are all fine in themselves, but also clichéd in the extreme when it comes to an outsider's view of Ireland. Does every Irish-based film have to soak its soundtrack in jigs and reels? Apart from this, the film's ending will also probably irritate many, with its contention that Guerin's murder led to a chain of events, which eradicated crime in Dublin for good. If only.
Many will have their own recollections of events in 'Veronica Guerin', which may well not tally with what's on display here. And sure, there are bound to be liberties taken in the name of dramatic licence. But the bigger picture suggests Bruckheimer and Schumacher got this right. It's the least Veronica Guerin deserves.