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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Erin Brockovich (2000)



Reviews and Comments

Sometimes a skillful director can make all the difference. Consider Erin Brockovich, a movie based on the true story of the real-life Erin Brockovich and her efforts to bring a contaminated drinking water case to trial. It follows on the heels of the similarly-themed A Civil Action, also based on a true story, and might have easily fallen under its shadow. But A Civil Action did not grab audiences the way it should have, and Erin Brockovich did. There are a couple of good reasons. One is director Steven Soderbergh, whose craft I admire very much. This is one of his less stylish films (contrast with, say, The Limey or Out of Sight), but his style is present. He underlines key scenes with subtle yet effective camera work and editing. He takes all the right risks with the pacing of the film, knowing when to rely on the characters to carry us through certain narrative segments and when to push other events off-screen.

The second good reason is Julia Roberts' portrayal of Erin Brockovich. This is a story about a civil lawsuit, yes, but it's also about her. She's a very complex character, and there's a lot going on with her: there's a rags-to-riches subplot and a single working mother struggle complicating the main storyline. The most interesting thing about her character, in terms of her role in the big picture, is that she really isn't terribly likeable. She's sharp-tongued, quick to anger, and quick to judge. She also has a deep and abiding passion for those whose quality of life were ruined by the irresponsible actions of a big corporation. She finds herself in a position where she is forced to spread herself too thinly, and she resorts to using people to make up for her lack of time. Surely, one must commend her for her courageousness and determination, yet how can we ignore her grave shortcomings? The most interesting question here is this -- could any of us do any better?

Many have called Erin Brockovich the role Julia Roberts was born to play. Perhaps so; she does a fantastic job. But this is the kind of meaty role many actresses would die for, and it's the kind of character we could watch for hours on end.

And yet, co-star Albert Finney steals all his scenes. He deserves at least an Academy Award nomination for his work.

Engaging story. Fantastic performances. Talented director. Food for thought. These elements and more combine to make a remarkable film; it reminds me again why I love movies so much.