When the Sky Falls (18)
WHEN crusading Irish crime journalist Veronica Guerin was gunned down in her car on June 26, 1996, the seeds were sown for both a riveting biopic and an expose of the ruthless gangster subculture which exists in modern Ireland.
Possibly self-serving and glory-hunting, but certainly tenacious, Guerin spent her working life swimming in a sewer, and When the Sky Falls ably shows that world, albeit with a gloss borne of reverence for the subject matter.
Director John Mackenzie, of The Long Good Friday fame, brings much of the same blood, grit and violence to this sordid tale of drug barons running rampant in modern-day Dublin. What he fails to do is present an objective take on Guerin’s own personality as she sought to expose the drug lords.
In When the Sky Falls American actress Joan Allen – seen to great effect in Nixon, The Ice Storm and Pleasantville – brings her own interpretation to the role of Sinead Hamilton, a thinly-disguised version of Veronica Guerin.
Shifting rapidly from the urban milieu of the Dublin underworld to the cosy, book-lined room which serves as her office, Hamilton slowly but inexorably lifts the lid on the dealings of the men who are slowly smothering Dublin.
But while there are noble leanings here, the main focus of the story – what made a lone women strive so hard for the truth that she paid the ultimate price – is dramatically underplayed to the point where it is lost.
Hamilton, a married mother of one, is revealed as a woman alienated from all, including her gentle husband, the police (Patrick Bergin as a paper-thin detective), the underworld and her colleagues back at the office.
Indeed, she appears to roam Dublin with impunity, flitting from the police to informer to the very highest criminals and accumulating exclusive stories which seem to fall into her lap.
Yet while some themes are particularly well-explored, others are not. The gender-swap – it is Kevin McNally as Hamilton’s fearful but protective spouse who urges her to quit – is always in the forefront of the narrative, while the focus of Hamilton’s quest is kept deliberately enigmatic.
Similarly, the IRA are depicted as shadowy figures who carry out their own punishment beatings to dissuade the drug gangs from becoming too cocky. The are painted, rather frighteningly, as almost a force for good.
Perhaps expectedly in a biopic of this type, Allen lacks the fire of the genuine journalist. As Hamilton she exhibits ambition and a tireless pursuit of her quarry, but not the burning desire to do the right thing.
In short, the entire film, perhaps deliberately, begs the question of how far one should go for principles and career. Was she brave or foolish? Tenacious or complacent in her self-belief she was untouchable. Where does it stop? Clearly, as far as When the Sky Falls is concerned, one person is not enough to bring down a crime empire, and Guerin/Hamilton got in way too deep.
In the end, her devotion, ambition or search for glory, whatever it was that drove her, also killed her.