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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Veronica Guerin (review)

Cate the Great

Cate Blanchett is a goddess. So beautiful that you just want to fall at her feet and weep, sure, but the talent. My god, the talent. This is her bestest, stunningest, most remarkably surefooted performance ever, but I think I’ve said that about each of her previous roles, I’ll probably say that about the next one, too, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I want to have her babies.

I say this just so you know how big a grain of salt with which to take my lavish praising of Veronica Guerin… though, is there anyone who doesn’t want to have Cate Blanchett’s babies? Don’t we all agree that she is a creature sent by the gods to delight us? I don’t want to know if anyone thinks otherwise — I’ll stick my fingers in my ears, la la la, and not hear you.

It’s the effortlessness, I think, with which she becomes the characters she plays. There’s nothing actorly or put on about her performances, and yet clearly there’s much work that goes into them — she spent a month in Dublin, getting to know the real Veronica Guerin through her friends and family and coworkers, and, I love this, perfecting her Dublin accent, like she wasn’t born and raised there by Dubliners who’d been Dubliners since forever. Well, that’s how she ends up sounding by the time Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, Bad Company) starting shooting. She works and works and makes it seem natural.

I rented Pushing Tin a couple of years ago, partly because I knew Blanchett was in it, and halfway through the film, I said to myself, Hey, I thought Cate Blanchett was in this. And at that moment I suddenly realized that I had, in fact, been watching her all this time — she was the gum-cracking, big-haired, Long Island girl — and I was floored at how invisible she was behind the character. It was like that with Guerin, too… not that I didn’t know who she was, but you know what I mean. Invisible.

Guerin — this is her true story — was an investigative reporter for Ireland’s Sunday Independent newspaper when she was shot and killed in 1996 by the drug kingpin she was about to expose. “Irish drug kingpin” may not have quite the ring we’ve come to expect from this particular breed of dirtbag, but this is the flip side of the Celtic Tiger, the bounding Irish economy of the 1990s: the country’s bigtime emergence into the international financial arena brought hard drugs into the country in quantities never before seen, and Dublin — parts of it, anyway — was like one big shooting gallery. The film opens with Guerin visiting rundown flats on the wrong side of town, researching a story, and it’s disgusting: little kids playing in a veritable sea of discarded needles, ignored babies, scared old people, hollow-eyed teenagers shooting up. And Blanchett’s (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Shipping News) Guerin wanders through it all, fearlessly scolding the slick dealers loitering around their new Mercedes like they’re a couple of kids who’ve let their football land in her garden. It’s not that she diminishes the obscenity of their crimes — it’s that she takes what they’re up to as the insult to society that it is, and that she sees them as precisely the puny cowards that they are.

It’s an Irish thing, this sort of ye-great-ijit smack in the head, and not a particularly brave or reckless thing — before Guerin’s murder, there apparently was no conception in Ireland that a journalist might be targeted for telling the truth. And Schumacher — bless him for pulling himself up from the ranks of the schlockmeisters and staying there — expertly captures that downward spiraling of a somewhat innocent culture, not only with the rise in drug abuse but also with the escalating violence that accompanied it. And it’s all seen through Guerin’s eyes — her innocence is the one shattered as she gets closer to the source of Dublin’s misery and her own, with the threats against her and her family ever increasing.

With gray, seedy Dublin as its background, Guerin has almost a noir feeling to it. Characters called Fatso and Hippo and The Monk certainly help, but it’s mostly down to Blanchett, who imbues Guerin with the tenacity of a bulldog and a saucy attitude in the face of gangsters and drug dealers and psychos of the worst sort. And like a great noir hero, her triumph comes in her death. It’s a total bummer, and yet there’s also something joyous in it, too, a celebration of not giving up or giving in and of refusing to be bowed by a bunch of wankers who think they’re big men because they have guns.

And in giving voice to this extraordinary woman, Veronica Guerin is Blanchett’s most extraordinary triumph yet… until, of course, her next one.


MPAA: rated R for violence, language and some drug content

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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