Revisiting Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin

Versatile director Joel Schumacher followed up his thriller Phone Booth with the gritty biopic Veronica Guerin. But was it a creative stretch too far?

“You’d do the same. If you saw those kids on the street, you would do the same.”- Veronica

The Recap

Riding high on the wave of success of Phone Booth, Joel Schumacher’s next film would see him taking on the tricky biopic genre. While not the obvious choice for such a project, he steamed ahead regardless, enlisting the help of über producer Jerry Bruckheimer (known mostly for action films). The finished piece probably wasn’t what either of them were expecting.

Veronica Guerin (Cate Blanchett) was a crime reporter for the Irish Sunday Independent. Aware of how badly the illegal drugs trade in Dublin was effecting the lives of everyday people, especially the city’s youth, she decided to investigate the problem further and expose those responsible.

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She begins by interviewing preteen addicts in a bid to discover who the suppliers are. This leads her to meet with John Traynor (Ciarán Hinds), who is very much in the mix with Dublin’s criminal underworld. Although willing to assist Veronica, Traynor does not want to put himself in the firing line of the big boss, John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley), and instead insinuates that another criminal, Gerry Hutch, known as The Monk, is behind it all.

After ruthlessly investigating him, she discovers he isn’t involved, and actively goes in search of the truth. The closer she gets to this, however, the more her life and the lives of family become endangered, including having a bullet fired through her window, being shot in the leg and having the life of her son threatened.

While her family implore her to stop investigating Gilligan, she instead takes the fight to his doorstep, which leads to him beating her. This makes Veronica more determined than ever to bring him to justice.

In late June 1996, Veronica has to attend court with regards to unpaid speeding tickets. She is fined only £100, and on her way home that evening shares the good news with her family before calling the office. It is while she is on the call and stopped at a red light that she is shot six times and killed by two men on a motorbike, who later dump the gun and the bike in a nearby river.

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Mourned by her family and friends, her death prompted Ireland to look closely at itself and what it had allowed to take place on its streets. Veronica’s death resulted in the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which allowed the courts to freeze all assets of suspected drug lords. It also made everyday people take charge of their streets, leading to almost weekly anti-drug marches, which eventually forced the drug dealers underground.

Although, in many ways, her death had been in vain, it is said that everybody in the Republic of Ireland knew where they were when they heard Veronica Guerin had been murdered.

Thoughts and Reaction

When you think of the serious biopic genre, Joel Schumacher’s name isn’t one that readily springs to mind. It’s a bit like oil and water, so when Schumacher came on board for this project there must have been a lot of head scratching in places. But this is Hollywood, and nothing really should come as a surprise anymore.

And although you should, perhaps, give a director who takes on a new, unusual project the benefit of the doubt, you still can’t help but think it will all go very wrong. Which is just what happened with Veronica Guerin.

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Firstly, there’s the story. The real events that took place in Dublin in the 1990s are massively important and the murder of Veronica Guerin is tragic, but this doesn’t really come across in the movie itself.

Instead, it is more of a sensationalised piece than a serious one, focusing on the more exciting parts of the story than telling it in its entirety and giving it a real heart.

For somebody who did so much to change the face of Dublin, Guerin deserved a bit more than the made-for-TV melodrama the movie eventually ended up becoming.

This can be blamed, in some part, on Schumacher, who went down the road of emotional overabundance rather than tell the story as was. It is tragic and sad, but at the same time, Veronica Guerin should be remembered for her legacy rather than just the fact she was murdered, and Schumacher really didn’t get that aspect across, instead presenting Guerin as a tragic figure rather than a brave one.

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The only thing I can’t fault with Schumacher in this movie, however, is his attention to detail, and how great the film itself looks on screen. Much like his previous work in Falling Down, he conveys the grittiness of the city, even though the rest of the movie is very much a murder mystery paint-by-numbers job.

Cast-wise, the movie falls flat, with only Cate Blanchett making any impact. This is, of course, helped by the fact that she plays the title role, but it does sometimes feel as though the supporting cast didn’t stretch themselves to their fullest, and were content instead to stick to the stereotypes their characters fall into.

When the film was released, Veronica Guerin received negative reviews, and the movie never made its money back.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Schumacher’s next production would be a world away from the gritty reality of Guerin‘s Dublin, and would instead be an over-the-top spectacle only he could produce.

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Next time, I will be looking at the big screen version of The Phantom Of The Opera.

Veronica Guerin Key Info:

Released: 11th July 2003 (Ireland) / 1st August 2003 (UK) / 17th October 2003 (US)Distributed By: Touchstone PicturesBudget: $17,000,000Box Office Gross: $9,439,660Best DVD Edition: Veronica Guerin DVD