I am a movie that takes place in Ireland! Actually, I’m not. But this is what I would be saying if I were “Veronica Guerin” (Touchstone Pictures), Cate Blanchett’s latest attempt at claiming the Academy Award that Paltrow girl so unjustly stole from her. Everything about the film screams “Emerald Isle,” from its rather intrusive soundtrack to a distracting cameo from Ireland’s hottest chain-smoking, womanizing, just-fathered-a-child export, whom I will not name. Once it has established that it does, in fact, take place in Ireland, “Guerin” deals with the journalist (Blanchett) who ultimately sacrificed her life in 1996 fighting to expose the leaders of Dublin’s all-too-powerful criminal underground.
The majority of the film depicts Guerin’s interactions with these assorted scumbags, with rare moments dedicated to her family and personal lives. But “Guerin” is at its weakest when addressing these issues – Blanchett’s scenes with her husband and child feel forced and inserted. It’s helpful to remember that this is a Jerry Bruckheimer/Joel Schumacher collaboration, and one can hardly expect a profound character portrait from the men who brought you “Batman and Robin” and “Pearl Harbor.” Instead, the audience is treated to a fairly standard thriller, with Blanchett as the tough female hero battling for justice despite disapproval from friends and foes, the always-wonderful Ciaran Hinds as her shady criminal “source” and Gerard McSorley as an ?ber-evil kingpin who just begs for a comeuppance.
At only 98 minutes (even “Coyote Ugly” was longer, for Pete’s sake), there is little room in this film for more than the satisfying dose of suspense, action and occasional brutal violence that it provides. Doesn’t Guerin, a martyr for journalists everywhere, deserve more than this?
“Guerin” almost has it all – action, violence, an adorable child, gorgeous Irish scenery (and men – keep an eye out for Alan Devine as Gerry Hutch), emotional impact – but it leaves the audience feeling a bit cold. Unfortunately, with true stories there’s no such thing as fudging the ending.
About seven years ago, author Gary Smith published one of the most heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking articles ever to be printed in Sports Illustrated. It told the story of James Robert Kennedy, otherwise known as Radio, a mentally handicapped man who loved two things: music and football. It was a story of acceptance and love and joy. Then the article fell hard into the crusty hands of Hollywood, and now we have the Frankenstein-like reincarnation, the major motion picture “Radio” (Columbia Pictures).
The year is 1964 and Radio spends his days roaming the streets of a small South Carolina town, pushing a junk-filled shopping cart and listening to soul music. He barely speaks and has a mental capacity far below what it should be, making him the target of much ridicule. Soon he is taken in by local hero and high school football coach Harold Jones. Coach Jones gives Radio not only a position as equipment manager for the Hanna High Yellow Jackets, but also the opportunity to find the acceptance he deserves. When the team hits a losing streak, however, outraged parents and townsfolk blame Radio for being a distraction and Coach Jones for allowing it to continue. It’s up to the coach and his new prot?g? to show the town that “We ain’t been teaching Radio. Radio’s been teaching us.”
And it’s precisely that kind of sappiness that sucks the life from the film, which nearly ends five different times with five different crises, all designed to tug at the audience’s heart strings rather than to tell a cohesive story.
The acting, however, is one thing about which the film can boast. Though Cuba Gooding Jr.’ s performance won’t win any awards, he has an undeniably lovable quality in scenes like the one in which he orders two pieces of pie for dessert. The real standout, of course, is veteran actor Ed Harris. He is able to capture the gruffness of a grown-up “good ole boy” who is somewhat jaded from having been put on a pedestal for years. Jones’ transformation back to a sensitive father and husband is convincing, thanks to the actor’s talent.
Story-wise, one would be better off reading Gary Smith’s article, but the film is not a total loss; it’s just a shame considering what it could have been.
The best intentions don’t necessarily lead to the best cinema, and nothing proves this better than the globe-trotting epic “Beyond Borders” (Paramount Pictures). The dichotomous story follows Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie) and Nick Callahan (Clive Owen); he is a physician committed to aiding refugees around the world, and she is an American socialite who gets caught up in his crusade.
The film follows the two as they fall in love against the backdrop of atrocities, danger and shady dealings in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya. Therein lies the film’s crucial flaw. The love story between the two leads seems forced and impossible under its circumstances. Jolie, who proved herself a capable actress in “Girl, Interrupted,” does nothing more than pout and force tears for two hours while Owen seems angry and says “fuck” a lot.
Rather than a mounting tension reaching its breaking point, the first love scene between the two principals seems like nothing more than an attempt by Owen to eat Jolie’s face. There’s no chemistry here, and there are also some very serious believability issues.
Owen’s character first notices that Jolie is something other than a na?ve do-gooder while she’s playing piano in an Ethiopian camp. Of course he wonders why there’s a piano in the middle of a squalid refugee camp in the desert while Jolie’s clothes remain as immaculate as Jesus’.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is not entirely awful. The stark depiction of the brutalities aid workers face hit me as hard as some parts of “Platoon” and “The Pianist.” In one particularly moving scene, Jolie prevents a vulture from attacking a gaunt Ethiopian child; in another, a Khmer Rouge soldier hands a live grenade to a small child. But the authenticity and sharp intensity of these scenes cannot make up for its other half, a love story marred by forgettable dialogue, stoic performances and overall mediocrity.