Veronica Guerin may look like an obscure indie at first encounter, with its Irish accented, virtually unknown cast (with the exception of Cate (Lord of the Rings) Blanchett in the title role) as they sniff around the gloomy, cancerous drug dens of Dublin to tell the true story of a reporter battling the cartels in the mid1990s. Unfortunately, at closer inspection, it’s quite the opposite. If it were an independent, presumably it would have been made by an Irishman, with a fresh, eager newcomer in the lead and the cast and crew would be local Dubliners who care about the story and its cultural significance. The film would have been authentic and meaningful.
Two flags are raised early in the Veronica Guerin experience, and one a bit further in.
First we see the Jerry Bruckheimer logo, and after our initial shock we start to sweat as memories of Armageddon, Bad Company, and Con Air still haunt our nightmares. The name Bruckheimer immediately tell us that the movie is looking to turn a profit first and be worthy of our time and intelligence second. After all, this is a man who champions Michael (Pearl Harbor) Bay, possibly one of the most infuriating, simple minded, patronizing hacks ever to say “action”.
Second flag. “Directed by Joel (Phone Booth) Schumacher. Now we are in a bind. The combination of these two men on this type of picture sets the brain aflame with possibilities. Clearly this is Bruckheimer’s art picture, like Black Hawk Down was for him last year. He does these types of films either for his résumé or to allow him to sleep at night with a clean conscience after all the raccoon defecation he has deposited in theatres (and for whatever voodoo he perpetrated on Nicholas Cage somewhere around 1996). But art or not , he’s not about to lose a penny – so he hires a moderately well respected auteur (like a Ridley Scott, who deserves better than the insult I just paid him) and instructs the filmmaker to make an entertaining art film with blockbuster appeal. Not easily done without painful compromise.
Schumacher has such a long, diverse and (not necessarily in a good way) impressive career that I urge you to check out his filmography and try to make heads or tails of it. A Time to Kill. Batman Forever. The Lost Boys. Falling Down. Dying Young. St. Elmo’s Fire. As Seinfeld might say, “what’s the deal with Joel Shumacher?”. His motto appears to be, “if someone wrote it, I can direct it (which turns out not always to be the case, but I digress).
Schumacher is nothing more that a high profile hit or miss director with an affinity for missing.
Why am I spending the bulk of this review discussing these two men who you won’t see at all in the ninety-six minutes you may spend watching Guerin? Because they may not be on screen but their fingerprints are all over the lens, and strangely enough, this may be the best reason to see this film: as an exercise in how commercialism can betray art without trying to appear commercial.
The director, who had not the faintest clue regarding the Batman series, which he single-handedly devastated, again can’t relate to this poignant character and he delivers a passionless effort which manages to dim the glow of the normally radiant Blanchett (not to worry, she has it beaming again for Ron Howard in The Missing).
Cate Blanchett, who has proven herself an ethereal presence in somber, straight performances in better films like Elizabeth and The Gift is probably an actress who should stick to more spectral roles where her frosty stare and angelic beauty can properly mesmerize. Her eyes can stop a heart beat. I can’t say this more politely so I’ll just say it. Cate, I don’t want you to take roles where you have to smile, or wink, or be cute. Leave those roles for Julia, and Meg and Nicole (who can actually do both if she wishes). Stick to the hard stuff, Cate. We don’t want you flashing your pearly whites for Bruckheimer as you investigate crimes like the Irish female version of his token smart ass sleuths (Axela McFoley perhaps).
The final flag (and straw) is such a blatant sell out, artless tactic that it suspends any remaining possibility that Veronica Guerin (the movie of course) has a soul. Three words and then you’ll have to see the film (and hear the groans and giggles) for yourself: Colin Farrell Cameo.
So now you know. Guerin has the outward appearance of a quaint but brutal Irish gem like the works of Jim (The Boxer) Sheridan and Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan, but looks are deceiving.
The result of this collaboration between erstwhile filmmaking and studio juggernaut is neither art enough nor entertaining enough, despite some gritty slayings, horrifying images of school children playing with heroine needles, and a devilish performance by Gerard McSorely as mobster John Gilligan.
It’s kind of a shame that Guerin didn’t turn out better because it likely won’t be a money maker and that may put an end to Bruckheimer’s foray into “quality” film. That’s too bad because watching him try was more entertaining than Flashdance and Kangaroo Jack put together.
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