Veronica Guerin DVD Review

I’ve always liked movies that are “based on a true story.” It gives me a chance to learn about something, whether it be about a person, place, or event that I was completely unaware of before watching the movie. All of this is going on while I’m being entertained with an interesting cinematic experience. It’s almost like I’m abiding the old cliché phrase “killing two birds with one stone” and enjoying every second of it in one way or another.

Even better, it’s nice to see Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys I and II, Con Air, Gone in 60 Seconds) abandon the flashy, explosive-heavy, far from reality action films in favor of working with Director Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, A Time to Kill, and the last two Batman movies) to produce the character, story driven Veronica Guerin.

The movie tells the story of Veronica Guerin, the passionate Irish journalist determined to discover and subsequently write about who was behind the massive drug trade that invaded Dublin during the mid 1990s. She saw too many kids getting addicted to heroin and dying either because of the drugs or the AIDS that quickly spread amongst them because of the frequent sharing of needles. Sure, she wanted to be a “good journalist” and “break a great story” that would get her recognized by her peers, but the primary reason she sought the stories was that she wanted to make a difference and really take up the role of what many people believe a journalist should: a public servant there to report and inform. In order to accomplish this goal, she took many wild risks and continued to go after the story despite multiple death threats and even experiencing several physical injuries as a result of messing with the wrong person.

After her death, something hinted at during a flash-forward scene at the beginning of the movie, life in Ireland changed dramatically. Several laws were enacted in the Irish Parliament as a direct result of her death and the general public, formerly very apathetic to the reign of drugs in the city, began holding intense marches and going after the small number of drug dealers on their own. As noted at the end of the film, people in Ireland know where they were the day Veronica Guerin was murdered the same way people in the United States know where they were on September 11th, 2001 or November 22nd, 1963 (the day President Kennedy was shot).

Remarkably, I learned all of that information about Veronica Guerin strictly by watching the Schumacher/Bruckheimer production of Veronica Guerin and the DVD special features. So, in that regard, it’s a very special movie and I applaud the storytellers for abandoning the flashy gore and violence they have succeeded with to tell a story with a more human element. Unfortunately, I don’t have very many more positive comments about the movie itself.

The Movie

As much as I appreciate Veronica Guerin’s story being told, Veronica Guerin falls short in a number of areas beginning primarily with Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the strong, Irish journalist. Blanchett is normally a splendid actress who has done quite well in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and her Academy Award nominated turn in Elizabeth. However, the Australian beauty strikes out in attempting to play a determined journalist trying to get an important story. In fact, her depiction of the lead character was more annoying than anything else. Instead of acting like a determined writer digging deep for the story and trying to make a big difference, she often came off as a snob that deserved to have all of her questions answered as if she was an officer of the law instead of someone researching for a newspaper article and aware she should respect her subjects’ privacy.

Also, while portraying Guerin as the determined journalist, the image that continuously popped into my head is the way early reporters looked in old television shows and cartoons wearing trench coats and tacky brown hats with a piece of paper in the hat that says “Scoop.” Instead of respecting the practices of journalism, I couldn’t help but think her mannerisms (especially the goofy, subdued smile she employed when she hit a brick wall in her research) merely painted the picture that all journalists are smarmy and unaware of how to respect their fellow man. So, in the situations where Veronica was a victim of violence, I almost sighed in relief, instead of screaming with outrage that a determined woman trying to crack an important story would face such obstacles.

I also felt the story telling Schumacher utilized left a lot to be desired. I think his first mistake was using an unnecessary flash-forward sequence at the beginning of the film foreshadowing the death of Veronica Guerin, when the final sequence leading to that moment, which required some good visual timing and slick camera work was shot well and could have been sufficient. In addition, I felt the flow of the story was wildly disappointing. Other than a startling scene during the first part of the film where Veronica entered into the drug infested area of town ripe with syringes all over the ground and a series of drugged up teenagers that resembled zombies rather than people, the entire purpose of the journalist’s crusade got lost in the crusade itself.

Another point to consider is the screenplay forced the story to be told in a manner that was similar to a frustrating episode of “Law & Order” with all the false leads and incorrect information being doled out as truth. Veronica spent a large chunk of the movie chasing after the wrong man until a break appeared to magically fall in her lap. This led her to the appropriate villain but it was difficult to determine that he was the man behind the drug trade because he barely associated with those working the streets or the drugs themselves. That’s either the mark of some holes in the storytelling or a drug lord so effective, he can still make a boat load of money without seeing what he’s selling to the youth of Ireland.

There are a couple of bright spots in the movie and they come in the supporting roles played by accomplished Irish actors, Gerard McSorley and Ciarán Hinds. McSorley plays John Gilligan, the man behind the massive drug trade that has swept through Ireland and financed the lavish lifestyle he grew accustomed to. He was not seen too much through out the movie, but when he was on the screen he played Gilligan with reckless abandon, really relishing the role as a villain looking to protect his fortune no matter how he “earned” it. Meanwhile, Hinds plays John Traynor, an odd fellow who constantly straddles the line of remaining faithful to Gilligan, the man responsible for his own cushy standard of living he has gotten used to and actually helping his friend Veronica crack the story she’s so interested in getting to. He’s nice enough to make the audience believe he has good intentions at time, but smarmy enough to leave the viewers wondering aloud if he’s telling the truth or deliberately sending Veronica on a wild chase through the streets of Dublin.

In the end, I found the story to be inspirational and I’m glad I sat down to watch Schumacher, Bruckheimer, Blanchett, and the screen writers, Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue, tell me all about it. However, Blanchett’s performance, certain unnecessary aspects of the direction, and the lackluster screenplay made me wish some other people were involved instead.

The Video

The film was shown in the widescreen 2.35:1 format. The movie transferred well to the format as I was able to get a real good idea of how gray and dreary Dublin really was during the mid-1990s.

The Audio

The DVD is equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, which I believe is perfectly fine. The score contains a large amount of Irish musical flavor and, while stereotypical in nature, does add to feel of where the story takes place.

The Extras

The film comes with the following extras:

** “Public Mask, Private Fears” — This “making of the movie” documentary is a woefully short 13 minutes long and is a sloppy hybrid of a brief Veronica Guerin biography and an HBO-esque “behind the scenes” program. Several of Veronica’s real-life friends and family are interviewed for the special, but it appears that they weren’t permitted to contribute anything of substance.

** One deleted scene — The DVD only came with one deleted scene, a 2 ½ minute speech given by Veronica Guerin (as played by Blanchett) at the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) banquet where she was given an award for her bravery during a very difficult time.

** The Real Veronica Guerin Speaks at the CPJ — I’m actually immensely surprised that the producers included particular clip of the real Veronica Guerin speaking at the same banquet that ended up being the movie’s deleted scene. I say this because the real Veronica Guerin speaking provided much more meaningful content as she paid tribute to all the journalists across the world that have died attempting to tell the important stories. In typical Hollywood fashion, the scene with Cate Blanchett ignored that part of the speech and followed other parts of it that focused on what SHE went through virtually word for word. After all, the story was about Veronica Guerin, not the other journalists who lost their lives, therefore, they (apparently) don’t need to be acknowledged.

** Commentaries — The “conversation” and Producer’s Photo Diary with Jerry Bruckheimer and the audio commentaries with Director Joel Schumacher and Writers Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue were acceptable, but didn’t provide anything overly memorable or interesting.

The Movie: 5.0
The Video: 7.0
The Audio: 7.5
The Extras: 5.5