A very slick and glossy version of the sort of tale that would ordinarily be the stuff of a television movie-of-the-week, “Veronica Guerin” tells the tragic but uplifting story of the titular woman, an Irish investigative reporter who was instrumental in unmasking the drug kingpins who were supplying the poor sections of Dublin in the 1990s. Though she and her family suffered terribly as a result, her tireless efforts to reveal the culprits led to the arrest of the responsible parties and the strengthening of Irish law to provide stronger tools against the drug trade.
There obviously aren’t many shocks or surprises to a narrative that’s part of the public record, so producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Joel Schumacher try to compensate by making the mounting as elegant as possible and populating the picture with a starry cast. The result is a high-brow docudrama, but one that doesn’t transcend the conventions of the genre.
Guerin is portrayed by Cate Blanchett, at her best one of our most exciting actresses, but here curiously one-note as the driven, impassioned journalist. In her reading, Veronica is a beautifully dressed, compulsive newshound who’s dismissed by many rivals as a showboater, reckless in pursuit of a story even when her single-mindedness might endanger herself, her husband (Barry Barnes) or her young son. When she becomes interested in investigating the prevalence of drugs among impoverished Dublin youngsters, she makes use of one of her mob informants, “Coach” Traynor (Ciaran Hinds), to track down the source. His information takes her into the intricate world of local gang leaders, including “Monk” Hutch (Alan Devine) and “General” Martin Cahill (Gerry O’Brien), but as we’re quickly made aware, Traynor’s playing a double game, feeding Guerin false leads to protect his own boss, the hitherto unsuspected John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley). Eventually, however, Veronica figures out the truth, which infuriates the brutal Gilligan and leads him to plot her permanent removal.
The story is told clearly and sometimes powerfully (a confrontation between Guerin and Gilligan at the latter’s posh estate takes a particularly harsh turn), and the background is nicely detailed, with the Irish locations captured beautifully in Brendan Galvin’s luminous widescreen cinematography. The gangsters are nicely etched, too: McSorley is a bit generically psychotic, but Devine is authentically creepy as the menacing Monk, and Hinds is a far more subtle, multifaceted villain here than he was in “Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life.” Curiously, it’s the people who take them on who seem less real. Blanchett endows Guerin with a sort of generalized energy and commitment, but never manages to give her the complexity the part warrants (of course, the script is of little help in that respect). Barnes is simply bland, and Brenda Fricker has virtually nothing to do but sigh as the reporter’s supportive, long-suffering mother. Some of Guerin’s colleagues have a bit of spunk, but they haven’t a great deal to do. For some reason (friendship with Schumacher, one supposes), Colin Farrell shows up for a thoroughly pointless cameo as a heavily-tattooed bystander with whom Guerin has a discussion along the street; it’s a “Hey, look at me” moment that breaks the mood, just as similar guest appearances did in so many films of the fifties and sixties.
One has to be pleased that Bruckheimer continues to branch out from his action-adventure movie mold to take on material that’s more serious and challenging. But while with “Black Hawk Down,” Ridley Scott was able to put the producer’s slickness to good use, with Michael Bay in “Pearl Harbor” and now Schumacher here, his good intentions are undermined by the inability of the directors to go sufficiently beyond the surface flash to locate the emotional core. “Veronica Guerin” is more proficient in that respect than Bay’s World War II soap opera was, but it doesn’t go far enough.