Friday, Aug. 1
LONDON -- A luminous performance from Cate Blanchett lies at the heart of Joel Schumacher's impressive drama "Veronica Guerin. While it is a fair bet that she -- and the film -- will get honorable mentions when it comes to awards time, it is equally unlikely that the film will make much of a dent at the boxoffice. It has opened well in Ireland but is not set to be released in the United States until October.
The real-life story of crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin made its way to the screen in John Mackenzie's impressive 2000 film "When the Sky Falls", made for Sky Television, which was given a limited theatrical release. That low-budget drama starred Joan Allen as the fictional journalist Sinead Hamilton, though the story was very much that of Guerin.
Schumacher's film is far more glossy than Mackenzie's grittier movie -- his budget was larger -- but the films are similar in that they feature standout performances from two actresses very much at the top of their game. The character of Guerin is a powerful one, and it is easy to see why it would attract top actresses. As a journalist in Dublin in the 1990s, she set out to expose the vicious drug dealers rife in the city. Her obsession led to her murder in 1996.
"Veronica Guerin" covers the last two years of her life. It is refreshingly frank in showing that Guerin's passionate determination to expose Dublin drug dealers also led to her neglecting her family and being accused of seeking self-glory. While the Guerin presented here is clearly a woman driven by a very honest desire to right wrongs, she also is presented as being self-absorbed, reckless and susceptible to manipulation.
In her mission to battle the drug dealers, she is helped -- though often misdirected and manipulated -- by the roguish John "The Coach" Traynor (played with charm by Ciaran Hinds), though her real nemesis is the brutal drug lord Gilligan (Gerard McSorley, who gives a performance of frightening brutality). Faced with beatings and attempted bribery, Guerin remains strident in her mission, with support and balance coming from her mother Bernie (Brenda Fricker).
Schumacher directs with restrained skill, bringing out the passion and brutality of the situations without letting the film slip into melodrama. Schumacher's best work seems to come when he handles dramas with more modest budgets (such as "Tigerland" and "Flawless"), which challenge him and allow his clear intelligence and ability to work well with actors to come through.
Blanchett brings her expected professionalism and ability to the role. Her Irish accent is perfect, and she has the charisma and presence to easily hold center stage. Her character may be flawed, but she remains driven and admirable. Fricker, Hinds and McSorley also deliver powerful performances. Irishman Colin Farrell, a Schumacher regular, makes a brief appearance as the wonderfully named soccer fan Spanky McSpank.
Buena Vista Pictures
Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenwriters: Carol Doyle, Mary Agnes Donoghue
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Executive producers: Ned Dowd, Chad Oman, Mike Stenson
Director of photography: Brendan Galvin
Production designer: Nathan Crowley
Costume designer: Joan Bergin
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Editor: David Gamble
Veronica Guerin: Cate Blanchett
Bernie Guerin: Brenda Fricker
John "The Coach" Traynor: Ciaran Hinds
Terry Fagan: Darragh Kelly
Timmy: Laurence Kinlan
John Gilligan: Gerard McSorley
Spanky McSpank: Colin Farrell
Running time -- 98 minutes
MPAA rating: R
With the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival of Miramax's sterling adaptation of James' "The Wings of the Dove", Buena Vista has volleyed forth with yet another James adaptation, "Washington Square". A well-conceived production, capturing the cloistered tenor of the Gilded Age, the film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as a lonely young heiress bereft of suitable male prospects. While Leigh's performance is splendidly modulated, her selection to play a dowdy, suitorless woman is, well, imaginative. No matter how frumped up, Leigh is not exactly a plain-Jane wallflower. Then again, Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for her performance as the same character in the 1949 film "The Heiress".
In any event, this is not exactly a film for the menfolk, so such license might likely be tolerated. Prospects seem solid on the art house circuit.
In this meticulous evocation of both an age and a mind-set, director Agnieszka Holland has painstakingly crafted a visualization of James' central conflict: once again the clash of the old world vs. the new. In this fine outing, the old world is personified by a distinguished and tradition-minded physician, Austin Sloper (Albert Finney), whose personal rectitude is exceeded in stiffness only by his mule-headed ways. Arrogant and domineering, he wants what is best for his daughter -- in particular, the very best of suitors.
Unfortunately, the moneyed aristocrats of this New York enclave, Washington Square, are not exactly beating a path to his daughter's parlor; the only swain to appear is a penniless yet handsome wastrel named Morris (Ben Chaplin). He has the temerity to ask for Catherine's hand, which enrages the good doctor.
While Carol Doyle's adaptation of James' writing conveys a keen understanding of his themes, as well as wry humor, it is director Holland's visuals that capture the central conflicts here: old vs. new, intellect vs. heart.
Unfortunately, the narrative is corseted by the performances. As the ardent suitor, Chaplin is, alas, somewhat sallow and wan. Overall, one's passion for Catherine and Morris getting together is never fully aroused. Finney, though, is well-cast as the vainglorious doctor, oozing with pomposity and stern callousness. And Maggie Smith as Catherine's venturesome aunt adds sparks.
Hollywood Pictures presents
in association with Caravan Pictures
A Roger Birnbaum production
in association with Ann Dubinet
An Agnieszka Holland film
Producers Roger Birnbaum,
Julie Bergman Sender
Director Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter Carol Doyle
Based on the novel by Henry James
Executive producer Randy Ostrow
Director of photography Jerzy Zielinski
Production designer Allan Starski
Costume designer Anna Sheppard
Editor David Siegel
Music Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Casting Debra Zane
Catherine Sloper Jennifer Jason Leigh
Dr. Austin Sloper Albert Finney
Aunt Lavinia Penniman Maggie Smith
Morris Townsend Ben Chaplin
Mrs. Elizabeth Almond Judith Ivey
Mr. Almond Arthur Laupus
Marian Almond Jennifer Garner
Running time -- 115 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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