I’m sure that there were a lot of people scurrying around Hollywood looking for the next Erin Brockovich, and this must have seemed like a good candidate — the true story of a courageous Irish journalist who would not be deterred from her coverage of drug dealers, even after being beaten and shot. When she was murdered by the people her stories were exposing, it inspired changes in law and law enforcement that sharply reduced the crime rate.
Veronica Guerin the person was a genuine heroine. But “Veronica Guerin” the movie is no Erin Brockovich. Cate Blanchett brings her always-vibrant life force to the role, but the character never feels real. Guerin is portrayed as cheerily indomitable to the point of irresponsible recklessness, especially when she puts her entire family at risk. She neglects her husband and child (she does not even know what she gave her son for his birthday), she easily beguiles them into forgiving her, evidently because she is just so darn irresistibly perky that resistance is futile. And that’s about as deep as it goes. We see that she never wants anyone to know that she is scared, but we don’t see why. And she is so flippant that we never really know what is important to her. When a bad guy calls her a “dangerous little b***,” she cheekily replies, “Do my best!” Is she a crusader for justice or just someone who likes to stir things up? We need to know in order to give this story the resonance it deserves.
The rest of the characters are one-adjective types, so one-dimensional that they might be played by paper dolls. Guerin’s boss, mother, husband, and son are all perfect, supportive, patient, and adorable. The bad guys are all brutal, ruthless, and sadistic. If it were really that simple, we would not need crusading journalists at all.
We find out right at the beginning that Veronica Guerin is feisty and charming and that she gets killed. The rest of the movie is just filling in the details, and it is curiously uninvolving for a story with so much built-in drama. And the disclaimer at the end that the movie’s most important villain is a composite character leaves us feeling manipulated and unsatisfied.
Parents should know that the movie has brutal and graphic violence and extremely strong language. Young drug addicts are vividly depicted, including one who has become a prostitute. There are scenes in a brothel and in a strip bar and non-explicit sexual situations.
Families who see this movie should talk about what makes someone willing to risk not only her own life but her family’s lives as well. Should she have been more careful? Should she have stopped? Why did it take her death to bring about changes that people knew were necessary while she was alive? How do you fight people who don’t play by your rules? The movie does a good job of showing how much hard work goes into the kind of reporting that Guerin did. Families should talk about the way that her dedication and her background as an accountant were as important in exposing the drug dealers as her courage.
Families who enjoy this movie should also see some of the other true stories about brave journalists who risk a great deal to get the story to the people, including Z and All the President’s Men. And they might also like the true stories about brave women who took on big corporations, Erin Brockovich and Silkwood.