Cate Blanchett gives a riveting performance in 'Veronica Guerin'

It's unlikely that Veronica Guerin was a saint, but she certainly was a martyr. In 1996, the 37-year-old Irish journalist was shot and killed as her car idled at a traffic light just outside Dublin. The bullets came from members of the city's criminal underworld, angered at Guerin's continual reporting on drug lords and organized crime. She had received threats in the past — her home had been invaded, her family threatened, and she had been assaulted — but continued undaunted.

Her death brought about changes in Ireland's drug laws, and she is now considered a folk heroine. Recently, the International Press Institute named her as one of their 50 Press Freedom Heroes; in Ireland, the new movie "Veronica Guerin" tells us, "everyone remembers where they were when they heard Veronica Guerin had been murdered."

So there's a rather heady challenge for a movie: How do you make this legend into a real-life woman, and how do you make an audience understand why a journalist would risk her own safety, and that of her family, for a story?

Joel Schumacher's movie does at least half of that, thanks to a riveting performance by Cate Blanchett. Her Veronica, sleek but sensible in a pert short hairdo, breathes with vitality and energetic sexiness; zipping around in her red sports car and flirting shamelessly with colleagues and sources (teasing them with "off the record" guile). She's a muckracker and she knows it, delighting in her profession's clichés. Lines like, "I got a tip — this could be big" could be dismissed as tepid writing, but Blanchett brings a zing to them; Veronica seems the type who loves to talk as if she's in a movie.

Movie review

"Veronica Guerin," with Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Ciaran Hinds, Brenda Fricker, Barry Barnes. Directed by Joel Schumacher, from a screenplay by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue. 98 minutes. Rated R for violence, language and some drug content. Several theaters.

Though Veronica has a happy home life, with her husband (Barry Barnes, nicely playing the kind of hand-wringing role usually played by women) and small son, this woman gets a charge from her work as an investigative journalist for the Sunday Independent, and it shows in her sparkling eyes. And she's got a stubborn streak that adversity only strengthens. Driving away from a terrifying encounter with drug lord John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley), in which he beats her until she can barely walk, her hands shake uncontrollably but her eyes remain focused, as if she's already composing her story.

That's what drives Veronica; though she's deeply concerned for the pale, ghostly children she sees playing with needles in Dublin's bleak housing projects, she's clearly motivated even more by a need to tell this ever-elusive story, and by something within her that won't let the bad guys win. Pale and quavering at home after the attack, she nonetheless tells her husband not to tell anyone of her fear. "I don't want them to have it," she says.

Blanchett's words have the ring of truth to them, and yet, good as she is, there's a hole at the center of this movie, as Veronica's heart manages to elude us. You leave the movie still wondering why, exactly, she took such risks.

Schumacher, almost fetishizing her death here (the movie begins with it, flashes back, and leads up to it again with almost agonizing deliberateness), turns his film into a tearjerker at the end, complete with maudlin music telling us that the angels are weeping.

A woman died that day in 1996, not a saint and not a symbol. Despite its excesses, "Veronica Guerin" comes tantalizingly close to introducing us to her.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or