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A TOO-REVERENT `VERONICA'.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

THE IRISH do love their saints. And, apparently, super-slick Hollywood director Joel Schumacher and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were not about to let anything disturb the pristine sanctity of Erin's most recent martyred heroine in their film ``Veronica Guerin.''

The crusading Dublin journalist whose relentless dogging of drug lords bought her a fusillade of bullets at a traffic stop in 1996, Guerin is played with chipper self-possession by Cate Blanchett. She's so righteously upbeat about her mission, in fact, that watching her so cheerily press ahead on her investigative reporting after suffering several beatings and nonlethal shootings before the final wipeout makes us wonder if this well-bred family woman might possess some kind of recessive congenital idiot gene.

But she doesn't, at least not as Blanchett plays her. The film's Guerin is always ingenious, brave and determined, regardless of how foolishly she seems to be going after the bad guys. In other words, she just ain't human. Her lack of all but the most cursory flashes of doubt and vulnerability contributes, I guess, to some kind of heroic myth-building. But I would've much more admired a Guerin whose comportment indicated just how frightened she would be of the jeopardy she put herself and her loved ones in while still pursuing her crusade.

The film often succeeds in making her commitment to her cause palpable, at least when it's not causing us to suspect that publicity hog Guerin didn't just single-mindedly blunder into peril because she found gardening features too boring. In a few deftly harrowing scenes, Schumacher and screenwriters Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue show us, through Guerin's steely eyes, what runaway heroin trafficking wreaked on Dublin's poor and stupid.

Of course, she leaves the syringe-strewn tenements at night for a beautiful, old stone country home bustling with bright, supportive relatives who never get very well-defined. They're there primarily for her to prove that she's a great mom, wife, sister and daughter, despite doing things that put all of their lives in mortal danger.

These extended Guerins are so bland that you almost can't blame Veronica for preferring the company of her untrustworthy but intriguingly gamy underworld informer, a pimp and money launderer named John Traynor (Ciaran Hinds). Traynor, who knows a fellow opportunist when he sees one, manipulates Guerin as easily as she does her editors, the electronic media and the cops - and she clearly enjoys being played by a peer. Their shared interactions provide the only moments of moral and behavioral ambiguity in a film that would have benefited from a lot more of that particular movie narcotic.

Anyway, a quick primer on the complexities of Dublin's 1990s organized crime scene will leave most non-Irish viewers confused (even those of us who've seen ``The General'' or ``Ordinary Decent Criminal,'' the other two, better movies featuring eccentric Martin Cahill, played here as a flat-out sadist by Gerry O'Brien). But the main villain soon emerges in the quite obvious form of John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley), hair-triggered vulgarian turned posh horse breeder by illicit millions.

Not having followed this widely publicized story, I must admit that I have no real idea how accurately ``Veronica Guerin'' portrays the individuals involved. I can only say that, except in the case of Hinds' Traynor, they all came off as two-dimensional movie archetypes who converse via slogan. The facts presented on screen must be fairly accurate - there is way too much documentation and recent memory out there for the filmmakers to have dared do otherwise. But when Dublin is done up this Hollywood, even the grit looks like brushed-on, old backlot sod.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

VERONICA GUERIN - Two stars

(R: violence, drug use, language, children in jeopardy)

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Ciaran Hinds, Brenda Fricker.

Director: Joel Schumacher.

Running time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Playing: Wide release.

In a nutshell: Biography of the crusading Irish journalist who was murdered by mobsters is way too slick and superficially hero-worshiping to do its subject justice.
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 17, 2003
Words:670
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