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September 2000


Rated: R

CAST: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Cherry Jones, Peter Coyote

Steven Soderbergh


Twice-divorced with three kids, Erin Brockovich doesn't have much going for her. She desperately needs a job, but is having trouble finding one since her skill set as a stay at home mom is not exactly desirable. Fate steps in in the form of a car accident case she loses. Even though it was clearly not her fault, the jury decides against her because of her past history and brash behavior. Unable to support her three children due to unemployment and medical bills, she begs her lawyer, Ed Masry, to give her a job. After all, he promised her she would win. Erin's attitude and wardrobe don't endear her to her co-workers, but she's just thrilled to be working. When a case crosses her desk that she doesn't quite understand, she takes to investigating to get answers to her questions. This simple pro-bono real estate case turns into the largest lawsuit against a major utility ever successfully prosecuted.

Most of the film follows Erin's investigating into why PG&E would not only be offering to buy the homes of people near it's power plant in Hinkley, California, but also paying their medical bills. Erin soon discovers that the plant has been poisoning the town's water supply with Chromium 6, a powerful toxin that is causing major physical damage to the townspeople, many of whom are dying of various cancers. No one wants to believe that this is really happening – the plant claimed they were using a healthy version of Chromium – but Erin is able to find documentation stating that they not only knew, they didn't care.

Though they are proud of her new job, Erin's loved ones aren't very happy with the hours she's forcing herself to work. However, she's unwilling to let PG&E get away with their gross negligence against Hinkley and refuses to let anyone even her children or boyfriend dictate how she's going to live her life. She even has to fight Ed to not only take the case, which could make or break his career and bank account, but to show her some respect in the process. Erin's life hasn't been easy and that's what the people of Hinkley respond to. She tells it like it is and they trust that she'll do right by them. The only problem is she's the only one who cares about these people and their futures. In the end, her perseverance wins the people of Hinkley over $400 million dollars and herself a nice new office and big fat bonus.


Though I am a Julia Roberts fan - I think she has a much greater range than she's given credit for or is usually allowed to show - Erin Brockovich is little more than a movie-of-the-week elevated to feature film status. This film would have been a blip on the network radar if it hadn't been for Roberts. The fact that it's enjoyable and even remotely interesting when nothing much really happens for over two hours is a testament to her star power and talent. It's understandable that she'd want to try to change her image by playing a normal person with money problems and children and she almost pulls it off. However, Julia is Julia after all and even the trashy clothes and truck driver language, though amusing, were not quite believable. The plot is more about her finding self-respect than about the law case she's uncovering, but it's still a compelling story. This is one of her best performances in years

What makes this film watchable is the performance of Roberts and the fact that for once the little people won. Of course, most of them would still die from their illnesses, but at least they beat the system in a major way. Roberts is very funny, and compelling as Erin, a woman not about to be quiet anymore. She even managed to look comfortable in the clothes her character wore, but I can't imagine she really was. I'd be scared that something inappropriate would pop out at any moment. The fact that her tight and revealing clothes may be the reason she never got any respect never occurs to Erin, which is a bit unrealistic. Sure, you should be able to wear whatever you want, but you're going to find it rather hard to get 99% of the male population to take you seriously, much less look you in the eye with your breasts hanging out. Does it detract from your intelligence or abilities? Not at all. But a little more material would go along way.

The film goes on a little long and the love story angle is never fully fleshed out, but that's not really what the film is about. Aaron Eckhart isn't given much to do except act mopey and that's a real waste. Then again, it's nice to see Julia concentrating on a more fleshed out role for herself that doesn't rely on a man to be interesting. Albert Finney is wonderful as Erin's frustrated boss who often can't stand her, but can't live without her either. Some of the best scenes in the film are their arguements. There's obvious affection between them, even when they're driving each other crazy. There would have been no vindication for Hinckley if it weren't for Erin and there'd be no movie if it weren't for Roberts. She makes a mediocre courtroom drama a film worth watching.


A decent film made better because of Julia. A much-desired breath of fresh air for her career.

Crazy For Cinema