Veronica Guerin, the crusading Irish journalist played with a relentlessly playful squint by Cate Blanchett, is murdered just minutes into her own biopic, and the visualization of the drive-by assassination gives the film’s spineless game away: no blood, no bullet, no pain, just an indignant soundtrack and blurry post-production smudging meant to provide “emphasis” for what we don’t even see. After that, you don’t anticipate nerve, subtlety, or respect, and Joel Schumacher’s new hysterical martyr-drama doesn’t bruise your expectations. A fairly rote pop passion hammered out of the Silkwood template, Veronica Guerin has a veneer of hard-bitten grit, but the desire to canonize Guerin for her work exposing Dublin drug lords is overshadowed by the movie’s attempt to canonize itself for shoving her saga into the international mainstream.
Guerin’s story (already filmed as When the Sky Falls, starring Joan Allen) comes ready-made for simplistic treatment: A plucky mother and wife, she was also a stubborn crusader for the Sunday Independent, hounding confessions out of politicians and sex-scandal clergy. She meets her Waterloo with Dublin’s explosive drug trade, after her weekly column serves to pressurize the Satanic crooks and initiate a popular-opinion critical mass.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Guerin chops this assembly line into discrete cine-bites (many scenes are limited to one or two sentences of expository dialogue), so the sensation is significantly more TV-movie tedium than verité gut-punch. (Compare it to last year’s Bloody Sunday, which attended to real time and details, and felt like a lightning strike.) Blanchett works each telegraphed scene like a sheepdog, but her saintly heroine is reduced to gestures. By the time Guerin is shot in the leg by an unknown assailant in her own home—the real-life event that truly galvanized Irish attention—we’re checking our watches waiting for the denouement and inevitable titles reiterating justice’s eventual triumph. Outside of a kidney-slug rendition of “The Fields of Athenry” and its accompanying father-son tableau, the movie is a pre-programmed mediocrity, a slave to its clichés.
Just as concerned with doing justice in its own bizarre, Grishamian way, Runaway Jury takes on two modern malefactions: jury consultancy (read: jury buying) and freely sold assault weapons. At first blush, Gary Fleder’s workmanlike adaptation promises to be unusually complex, coming at the central legal issues from multifarious points of view: Gene Hackman’s repugnant, CIA-style “consultant,” Dustin Hoffman’s honest civil-suit attorney, John Cusack’s shady jury member, Jeremy Piven’s watchful jury expert, the other jurors (Bill Nunn, Nora Dunn, Cliff Curtis, the curiously uncredited Luis Guzman), and even righteous New Orleans judge Bruce McGill. But soon enough, matters simplify, with the gun-fatality trial being manipulated without the jury’s knowledge by high-tech criminals on one hand, and Cusack’s motivationally shrouded everyguy on the other.
Not nearly enough time is spent in court—that is, on the movie’s ostensible subject. (Besides, the down-to-the-wire deliberation scene is risibly unconvincing and abbreviated.) In virtually every way the movie is stock Grisham calculus, and as Manichean as Veronica Guerin: very, very bad shysters and corporate hogs versus very, very good lawyers and anti-gun-death activists. It’s proof, if any is needed, that Grisham knows more about bestsellerdom than he does about law.