Dir: Joel Schumacher. US. 2003. 98 mins

Seemingly content to seesaw between vapid commercial fare and grittier personal projects, director Joel Schumacher follows the spy game misfire Bad Company with a heartfelt salute to a true-life heroine. The story of a fearless Irish journalist's crusade against the evils of the drug trade, Veronica Guerin covers very similar territory to John Mackenzie's fictionalised, little seen When The Sky Falls (2000) starring Joan Allen. Schumacher's more glossy, polished and emotionally charged approach results in a solid, tightly-paced, middle-range drama that will prove a real test of Cate Blanchett's appeal. Charlotte Gray and Heaven have already indicated that while she is critically admired, she has yet to consolidate her drawing power which means international returns could be decent but not spectacular. The film's opening weekend in Ireland delivered an extremely impressive $443,713 (including previews) from 53 sites. It opens on the UK on August 1 and October 17 in the US.

Portrayed as a mixture of Erin Brockovich bloodhound and Gary Cooper-style lone wolf martyr, Veronica Guerin risked life and limb to expose the drug dealers who poisoned the streets of Dublin in the 1990s. Reckless and unrelenting, she paid for her tenacity in blood. The film begins in June 1996 when she was gunned down and covers the final two years of her life when the quest for the truth became an all-consuming obsession.

Proceeding with the purpose and pace of a thriller, the film sketches in the factors that fuelled her stubborn determination to prove her journalistic worth and tackle the soaring drug trade. Although it approaches her life from a position of admiration, it is not uncritical. This is a woman who neglected her family, suffered the scorn of fellow journalists who considered her a glory-seeking dilettante and could be easily manipulated by those keen to point her in the wrong direction. Roguish gangland figure The Trainer (Ciaran Hinds) appears to supply her with vital information whilst constantly covering the tracks of violent, volatile drug baron Gilligan (McSorley). The Trainer even organises the first, botched attempt on her life.

An exciting and absorbing story, especially to those unfamiliar with the events or the earlier Mackenzie film, Veronica Guerin is perhaps a little too keen to maintain its forward momentum. A longer running time might have allowed for some more reflective passages or a deeper insight into issues that nag at the fringes at the story, particularly Guerin's flagrant and foolish disregard for the safety of her loved ones.

Schumacher takes a relatively restrained approach to potentially melodramatic material and scenes in which Guerin is unswayed by bribes or beatings make a considerable impact. There is also an absence of the typical bombast associated with a Jerry Bruckheimer production until the heart-tugging overkill of the final scenes covering Guerin's death and its wide-ranging repercussions.

A well-chosen ensemble cast includes a fiercesome turn from McSorley as Guerin's foul-mouthed nemesis and some touching scenes with Brenda Fricker as Guerin's mother. There is also a one-scene appearance from Schumacher protege Colin Farrell as a flirtatious football fan. The heart and soul of the production remains Blanchett's multi-faceted performance. Her Irish accent is impeccable and she paints a fully rounded portrait of Guerin's blazing intelligence, irrepressible spirit, fatal naivety and sheer terror as she realises that luck and brass neck will not protect her from retribution. There is a vivacity and ease in the precious moments with her family and an awareness of the way she uses her feminine wiles to advantage in dealing with cops and criminals alike. It is a persuasive, captivating performance that honours a woman whose foolhardiness risks becoming unsympathetic.

Prod co:.Touchstone Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Int'l dist: Buena Vista Int'l
: Jerry Bruckheimer
Exec prods: Ned Dowd, Chad Oman, Mike Stenson
Scr: Carol Doyle, Mary Agnes Donoghue.
Cinematography: Brendan Galvin
Prod des: Nathan Crowley
Editor: David Gamble
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast: Cate Blanchett, Brenda Fricker, Ciaran Hinds, Darragh Kelly, Laurence Kinlan, Gerard McSorley.