In America

Starring Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Brenda Fricker and Colin Farrell. Directed by Joel Schumacher.
Running Time: 92 mins
Rated: MA 15+

Depending on who one talks to in Ireland about the real Veronica Guerin, one gets very different impressions about her. Some think she was a modern-day martyr. There are serious moves afoot in some Irish quarters to open her Cause for Canonisation. Others think her zealotry blinded her judgement and that she put herself and her family in unnecessary danger.

As good and noble as her cause was, after watching this biopic I am more convinced by the latter opinion.

In 1996 35-year-old Veronica Guerin (Blanchett), an investigative journalist for Ireland's The Sunday Independent, starts to become aware of the sophisticated organised crime rings that are supplying and controlling Dublin's illegal drug market. At the time drugs in Ireland were the major social problem and the fall-out on the streets of Dublin was tragic.

The more Guerin digs, the more she discovers the identities of the crime bosses, and their protectors. She has entered a dangerous world, and then she starts to name names in her column. The response is swift. Guerin and her family are targeted for some rough treatment. It's giving nothing away to say that she was shot to death in broad daylight on 26th June 1996 while sitting in her car at an intersection on a Dublin street.

This rather didactic film does not sentimentalise Guerin's life. It is filled with unrelentingly ugly characters and some of the language and violence in it is very graphic indeed.

On the one hand Veronica Guerin is the portrait of an incredibly courageous social campaigner who would not heed her mother's (Fricker) advice, "It's sometimes braver to walk away," or at least to share the burden with others. And there is no question that her assassination bought down the drug families in Ireland.

On the other hand this film tells the tale of a woman with a messiah complex, who made some unbelievable decisions that imperilled her own life and that of her husband and son. Everyone paid the price for her inability to heed the warnings. The people whom she loved most were left a widower and motherless.

Cate Blanchett gives a sterling performance as Guerin. She is in almost every scene in the film. Her Irish accent is convincing, too, but there is something unconvincing about what motivates Guerin, and Blanchett's performance does not clarify it for us.

Maybe she intended it that way because the line between a martyr, at least in the Christian tradition of being prepared to die for a cause, and someone fixated on dying for a cause, is sometimes hard to work out.

If you can take the violence in Veronica Guerin's world, go and judge for yourself.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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