Veronica Guerin. Based on a true story.

by Jonas Cukierman

Journalists sometimes sacrifice their lives to protect the public; theirs is the noblest service. – Jonas Cukierman

By the mid 1990s, Dublin, Ireland was a city overrun by an epidemic of heroin the likes of which it had never seen. Ruled by cold-blooded druglords such as John Gilligan criminal)and Martin Cahill aka the General -who would nail his victims to the floor as a way of sending a message-, the percentage of addicts in Dublin was meteorically rising until one bold woman decided to take on the drug cartels. Initially, Veronica Guerin, a correspondent for the Sunday Independent, one of Ireland’s most circulated papers, was not a crime reporter. With no lack of tenacity, she first went to the addicts for answers in order to find an informant who was directly connected to the likes of Gilligan and Cahill. Finally, Guerin found her informant in the form of John Traynor, himself a career criminal who would act as a go-between for her and Gilligan, but not without himself being under great pressure from Gilligan to keep things under wraps. Gilligan was after all a man who shunned the spotlight and led a very quiet life, which drew little or no attention from the Gardai, the national police force of Ireland. As Guerin moved deeper, Cahill was in the mean time assassinated and one would think that one of the threats to Veronica’s life was over. However, there was still Gilligan, who, although a hushed figure was as dangerous as an army on Meth. However, one of Guerin’s greatest hurdles before being able to cripple the drug trade with her effective writing was not watching children rot away with spikes in their arms. Instead, it was the super-stringent libel laws of Ireland, which greatly restricted what she could say without some serious fishing. Moreover, for this she had to go nose-to-nose with gangsters and killers and with dire consequences to her safety including being shot (surviving) and being beaten by John Gilligan while trespassing on his property. Nevertheless, Guerin was starting to make Gilligan squirm. For this reason, he offered to buy her off. When that didn’t work, he sent someone to fire a warning shot at her…literally. She was not mortally wounded, but being shot in the leg and having bullets fly through her windows at home were simply methods of intimidation, but she would not relent. Even when she received phone calls in the middle of the night from killers, Veronica continued to work with Traynor in order to peel away the flesh of the drug kingpin’s sanity. Guerin not only put herself right in the line of fire by visiting the homes of gangsters (and I do not mean with an appointment), but she received little protection from the Gardai, who trembled at the idea of prosecuting the Dublin underworld. At the core of this film are the performances of a great ensemble cast. Blanchett is perfectly suited in the title role. She portrays the selfless reporter aggressively yet with a dash of subtlety. Irish actor Cirrian Hinds is John Traynor in a present, albeit not very visible persona. However, if Blanchett represents the all-encompassing good, then Gerry O’Brien and especially Gerard McSorley are nothing short of terrifying as Martin Cahill and John Gilligan respectively. These two criminal portrayals rival anything you will see in a Martin Scorsese mafia film – in fact, McSorley was originally selected to play Queenan in The Departed. In Veronica Guerin, the good guys are good, and the bad guys are even worse. Such critics as Roger Ebert, Pete Travers of Rolling Stone and Derek Elley of Variety all panned this picture. In addition, for all the respect I have for them professionally, I must say that I disagree with their accusations of this film being a vehicle of self-righteousness and egocentrism as a means of expressing Guerin’s long-fought battle. The fact remains that like many journalists, she gave her life in order to bring about drastic changes in how Ireland punishes criminals and overrides libel laws in order to protect the innocent from the predatory. Finally, the soundtrack features three great songs including performances by Sinead O’Conner, U2 and an unknown boy by the name of Brian O’Donnell, who delivers a touching rendition of The Fields of Athenry, an Irish folk ballad perfectly suited in mood and soulfulness over the scenes directly following her brutal murder at the hands of Gilligan’s hitmen. Most sad of all is the montage, which shows the reactions of Guerin’s mother, her husband Graham Turley and her three-year-old son, Cathall as they receive the news. In fact, if you choose to buy the soundtrack, Fields of Athenry is listed simply as Bad News. For a director I have never felt was that focused, Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, 8MM, St. Elmo’s Fire) has this time made a film with an independent feel which has delivered a cry for justice, much like the people of Ireland did after hearing about the murder of Ireland’s bravest reporter. However, this film is not only about Guerin, it is instrumental in creating awareness, a reactionary wakeup call for the protection of journalists who are often being killed in the line of duty. Veronica Guerin (1958-1996) The Irish voice of courage speaks: Veronica Guerin’s acceptance speech at an awards ceremony for journalists. Go beyond the film with this clip from 60 Minutes:


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