On Second Thought: “Veronica Guerin” A 20th Anniversary Special

Journalists exist in all parts of the world. Sometimes it’s because that’s where their work takes them, others because they live and work in certain countries. While these journalists may not be covering such complex global events, they’re certainly covering important issues in their own country. Ones that hit closer to home. Sometimes these issues will not be treated with the level of concern they deserve, and hope of change is lost. Fortunately, there are those that will do whatever it takes to make sure an issue isn’t ignored, even if everyone else has written it off.

The Touchstone Pictures film “Veronica Guerin”, may be far from a perfect movie, but there’s so much to get from it beyond entertainment.

This biographical film stars Cate Blanchett (upcoming “Knight of Cups”, “Carol”), Gerard McSorley (“Bayonet (Short 2012)”, “War Horse”), Ciaran Hinds (upcoming “Last Days in the Desert”, “Shetland”), and Brenda Fricker (“Forgive Me”, “A Long Way from Home”).

The film is directed by Joel Schumacher (“House of Cards”, “Trespass”) and written by Carol Doyle (“Human Trafficking”, “Washington Square”) and Mary Agnes Donoghue (“Jenny’s Wedding”, “White Oleander”).

It was originally released on Oct. 8, 2003 in a limited capacity followed by a wide release on Oct. 17. The film would go on to be nominated for one Golden Globe Award, eight Irish Film and Television Awards; winning one, and two Political Film Society, USA Awards; winning one.

The next film in this journalism series is another sad one. The tragic murder of Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin, who reported for the Sunday Independent from 1994 until her death in 1996. When I started putting this together I had no idea that this post would come in the year that is to see the 20th anniversary of her death (hence the title), which will be recognized on June 26. This film, regardless of what critics think, is important as it showcases how hard she worked to ask questions, find answers, and just attempt to get people to care about what was going on in the drug world, which was creeping up everywhere.

One of this film’s upsides, which not only grounds the character and gives us an emotional component, is her family life. She’s married and has a young son, yet she constantly puts herself in situations that are dangerous. I may not be able to speak, or even entertain an idea as to why journalists do this, but they do. It’s just a fact. Which is why, in this film, this component isn’t just meant to give you something to connect to, but show who she was and why this was important to her. It’s shown in the film that even children are finding used needles on the streets, which is itself a disturbing scene to think about, but she cares more so than just because of that. I find that without this element, which would be weird to see missing either way, there wouldn’t be as clear a picture of Blanchett’s Guerin as there is. She, like so many other working parents, or guardians of children, was striving to do it all. I would say pretty successfully. But it wasn’t simple, mainly as her work got complicated and life threatening. She was pulled in different directions when figuring out what was the right choice to make with regards to work. She even thought about this, but could only land on one option. She had to pursue the story.

“You think I want to do this, do you? I don’t want to do this, I have to.”

This line may be for dramatic effect, but it serves two purposes. One, it’s dramatic (duh) and pushes this story further, especially since I doubt, other than her real husband, there’s any proof she said or thought this. It’s simply great for this film. Second, this belief is evident in both the fictional Guerin and the real life subject. It’s also quite admirable as her aim is to bring this criminal world down, or at least bring it to the public’s view. Why else would she continue with this particular thread of stories? It’s people like her that give me glimmers of hope that there’s someone out there that can make a difference or simply cares about the world’s ills.

While a lot of journalists have been documented as still pursuing the story even if it’s dangerous, I can’t say that I believe that all journalists would. I’m sure there have been some that decided to stop going as it was too dangerous. And It’s not even just journalists who have this dedication to what they do. There are so many people throughout history that just keep going because it’s the right thing to do, and something that needs to be done in order to bring about any kind of change.

The bulk of this film, to put it simply, is Blanchett investigating any aspect of the criminal underworld for her stories as that’s her job. And as I said already, it’s who she is. So, it makes sense then, especially as it’s what got her killed, that the film would detail her doing this. Doing her job. It’s fascinating from a journalism perspective, as you can kind of see what it’s like for a working journalist, or what it’s probably like. It’s hard work. Each moment is more fascinating than the last. It’s a journey of its own, and again, a character study. I found that I couldn’t tear myself away from the screen. Nothing was really shocking, in that jaw-dropping sort of way, but there was enough to keep you on your toes. Even if you’ve seen the film or know of the actual events, watching it is still going to surprise you. It’s that whole idea of getting the behind the scenes look at what really happened that keeps you interested. Even this time I was still so engaged with this film and I’ve seen it upwards of seven times, if not more.

On the other side, as the creatives behind this film didn’t want to keep this film one-sided or too mysterious, they tried to provide answers. What was it that ultimately led to Guerin’s murder? We get to see the criminals at work. It’s an interesting way to tell this story, but I think it worked to balance the film, and it wasn’t excessive.

One wouldn’t think that the ethics of a journalist would be interesting to see play out, let alone cover in a film. But sometimes they’re necessary. In this film, the ethical approach to journalism that Blanchett’s Guerin takes isn’t the focus, but it’s quite clear. I must admit, I didn’t originally look at it this way first time I watched it. It all plays out while Blanchett is investigating leads for any of the pieces she’s working on. Sometimes her approach to getting answers from sources, or simply having a conversation with them, doesn’t seem to be the best at all. It doesn’t seem to be at all professional either, and as I’ve discovered, it raises questions about the type of journalist she was. Yes, she may have been able to get information to go forward with a story, but that doesn’t mean the overall approach was good or a kind of example anyone should follow.

Guerin’s approach seemed to border on harassment at times. To some extent, you see this also play out by the way journalists from competing outlets regard her. There are several scenes that depict this, and while they may come off as fair, they’re also hurtful. She’s covering a serious issue, which no one else seems to care about, and nobody can give her even that respect. But, regardless of how you see this tactic to her job, it speaks volumes to who she was and why she pushed so hard for each story she covered. For that, I think I can look past this. It wasn’t like she was fabricating stories and printing them as fact. That would be worse.

As one would expect, especially given the ending of this film, this film packs a really strong emotional punch. It’s not unrelenting, but it is a slow build up. I don’t feel that any moment depicted was that off. You felt all the things you needed to, which again is due to how Guerin’s life is portrayed. There are some really big emotional moments, which come from when Blanchett’s Guerin is attacked or assaulted in some way, as those are also just hard to watch, and then there are the more subtle moments. There are several more intimate moments where she’s allowing herself to be vulnerable. That’s another aspect of her character that fascinates me. She puts on a brave face so as to not be discouraged, but in truth, is frightened. Even before these you see moments between her and her various family members. You see and feel so much from even these moments, it’s a wonder tissues aren’t needed sooner.

And, before you think I’ve forgotten, why is this emotion capable of being felt? Blanchett and the other actors she spends time with. Every single actor is quite good. I’ll give you that the performances aren’t top notch, but they certainly are strong enough to get you all the rest of the way into this story. I personally have always liked Blanchett’s performance in this film, and it’s because of this that I was able to get so emotional about this film. For the film’s simplicity, which also isn’t a bad thing, as it doesn’t try to be too much other than what it is, it’s quite effective. For me, and this is far more important, it’s another shining example of why Blanchett is one of my favorite actresses. There’s seldom been a performance of hers I haven’t liked, or one that doesn’t show me how capable she is as an actress. She’s a chameleon, and I’m always anxious to see what she does next.

“… If I or any journalist was to be intimidated. I mean, that means they’ve won. And they’re not going to win.”

While Guerin may have been undeterred, she certainly faced a hell of a lot of backlash for her work. Colleagues doubted her on every level and at every moment, and the rest of the community seemed to ignore the issue, but she continued on anyway. She understood how important this was, and that she, being a sensible person, couldn’t ignore it. Even after she was shot in the leg, had a shot fired at her house, been beat up by a criminal, and received threatening phone calls, she pushed forward. A bit more afraid, but still determined to prove that there was a major crime problem that needed to be addressed. It’s because of this determination to do her job as a journalist, that she was awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). This award is meant to honor courageous journalists, as they have endured things such as “death threats, physical attacks, legal action, imprisonment, or exile in the course of their work.” Interestingly, the film’s DVD has a deleted scene depicting just this moment, with Blanchett delivering a speech that seems to be almost word for word what the real Guerin delivered.

Sadly, it wasn’t fully her articles and hard work that proved to be the defining moment that got the country to listen. It was her tragic death.

Guerin, as depicted in the film, was murdered on the Naas Dual Carriageway in her own car. From both a film and real life perspective, it’s an incredibly surprising and sad moment. When the people of Ireland heard that she’d been killed, it’s said they were outraged, and rightly so. For me, no matter how many times I see the this film, I can’t get through this bit, or the scenes depicting those who knew her learning of her death, without a lot of tears. I’m not sure why I’m constantly moved in this way, even though it will always be sad, but I am.

Okay, I thought about it. When thinking about how this moment in Guerin’s life is portrayed, it makes more sense. You witness the other motorists see her getting killed, and who exactly had been shot, as they didn’t know, and then you see the others that knew her being told. A lot of this is played out with a haunting version of the Irish folk song, “The Fields of Athenry”, and this is why I believe I’m so moved. Every piece of this bit of the film is well executed in order to get the desired effect. It’s not so much that this would make you sad, as that sadness was already a given, but it amplifies even more.

For Guerin, it was only after her death, like so many before and no doubt after, that change finally occurred. The Irish government established the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), which along with laws, aims to be able to seize the assets of those who obtained them with money made through criminal activities. Guerin was able to achieve in death, what she couldn’t achieve in life.

A tragic irony in all of this, Guerin was murdered two days before she was scheduled to speak at the Freedom Forum in London. Her topic was “Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk”.

“In the six years since Veronica Guerin’s death, over 196 journalists worldwide have been murdered in the course of their work.”

This quote and figure, which closes out the film, is interesting to read, even now, but it’s nothing compared to what’s sadly been compiled since the film came out. The CPJ keeps track of working journalists and media workers, who are just as vital to reporting news, from all over the world. If any of them are killed in the course of their work, the committee seeks out the reason why and compiles statistics so as to keep the world aware that there are those that not only put their lives at risk, but are targeted specifically because of their work.

Since 2002, the year before the film came out, up until 2015, at least 1,193 journalists and media workers have been killed. Included in this list, is previous film subject Daniel Pearl, as well as the murders of Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, on Aug. 26, 2015. Parker and Ward, who worked for the CBS affiliate WBDJ in Virginia, were conducting a live interview when they were both shot. These on-air killings later became major national news, which proves that doing a morning show is no longer as safe as you’d think.

Last year alone saw the deaths of at least 99 journalists and media workers, according to CPJ.

And so far, in the few months that make up 2016, at least 11 journalists and media workers have been killed. There’s still nine whole months to get through.

Doing the work that journalists do is not easy, and that’s before you factor in any life threatening situations you know about going in. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to get information so a news outlet can run with the story. Yet, even knowing this, there are so many people out there that enter into this business and try to make a difference. That phrase sounds silly, as everyone hopes to make a difference, but with so many atrocities out there in the world, even in your own back yard, someone has to do it. If it weren’t for the determined journalists like Guerin or Pearl, and so many others fortunate enough to be alive and doing this work, who knows what this world would look like. How many people or institutions, that were held accountable, would still be doing whatever they wanted? Words, when used properly, can make great change.

Thrilling and compelling “Veronica Guerin” trailer:


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