When the Sky Falls


dir John MacKenzie
scr Michael Sheridan, Ronan Gallagher, Colum McCann
with Joan Allen, Patrick Bergin, Kevin McNally, Jimmy Smallhorne, Liam Cunningham, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Barry, Gerard Flynn, Fearghal Geraghty, Gavin Kelty, Ruadhrai Conroy, Antoine Byrne
Sky 00/Ireland 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Based on the life of Dublin journalist Veronica Guerin, When the Sky Falls is a stunningly well-observed drama about a strong-willed woman standing up against a corrupt system. And it can be forgiven all its journalistic idealism due to a powerful central performance by Allen and smart, energetic direction by Mackenzie (The Long Good Friday).

Sinead Hamilton (Allen) is the star reporter for the Sunday Globe--her stories about crime and politics confront the city's violent underworld in a way no other journalist would dare. Her work has her moving amid criminal bosses (Cunningham, Postletwaite and Flynn) and lowlifes (Smallhorne and Kelty), as well as shady cops (Bergin and Barry) working in nearly impossible conditions. Her touchstone to reality is her supportive but frightened husband (McNally) and their 5-year-old son (Geraghty).

It's this juxtaposition that makes the film work so well--real life at home and the office, with its humorous rhythms and emotional stresses, contrasted with the life and death situations on the streets. And Allen delivers a perfectly pitched performance that's gripping, moving and utterly believable from the opening scene to the tragic conclusion (Guerin was murdered in 1996). The script's portrait of her is overly reverential; her only flaws are a tenacious refusal to give up and she seems to be the only journalist in the world with fair, honest, upright principles. Fortunately, Allen keeps her feet on the ground fascinatingly, and the surrounding characters (even the villains) are all intriguingly layered. The best thing about the film is the way it never loses its human face amid the tensions, horror and journalistic intrigue. There's always time for a telling little throwaway scenes to reminds us that this is an ordinary woman rising to an extraordinary challenge ... one that will cost her life.

[18--strong adult themes, violence, language] 9.Jun.00
UK release 16.Jun.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall