Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

ERIN BROCKOVICH

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (2000, Universal Pictures)
Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, and Marg Helgenberger

A woman sacrifices love and time with her children to bring an electric company to justice in a small town where the residents are getting sick.

 

 

4 stars

July 28th, 2000 in the Theatre

 
   

Such solid acting by Julia Roberts just blew everybody away, but even the secondary characters were so good that there can be nothing negative about the movie.  The directing must have been really good, too, for Roberts to steam-roller through this one.

And steam-roller she was.  While she couldn't get a job, and whined at the beginning, the character of Erin knew what her life was like, and what she wanted from it.  And I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of any person who stood in her way when she had the higher ground. 

Roberts got all the good lines, too.  They were delivered so perfectly that it seemed like the other actors were just gaping at her for a few seconds before they remembered their lines. 

Erin forces her way onto the staff of a lawyer who failed to help her when her car was hit.  She has some difficulty at first, but then stumbles on a case which she doesn't quite understand.  The case is complex, and takes some explaining, and the movie does a terrific job of explaining it.  And the deeper Erin digs, the more complex it becomes. 

It turns out that the local power company in a small town has been using toxic substances to help its turbines burn hotter, and dumping it into pools that aren't lined to catch the stuff before it leaks out to the groundwater. 

So the residents are getting sick, only the power company won't admit that it is the cause.  For some reason, the residents aren't suspicious when the company pays for doctors, who tell than that it is their lifestyle that is making them sick.  Not only that, but the company sent out pamphlets and held seminars telling the people that this stuff was good for them!

Erin slowly convinces the  residents to join in a class action suit against the power company.  The tension heightens when her boss brings in another lawyer, who will help him pay the bills, but who is pretty stuffed-up.  The residents begin to bolt, and it takes a steady and compassionate hand by Erin to bring them all back. 

Complicating matters is her relationship with her kids and new boyfriend.  George loves her kids, and doesn't have to work very much, so he can watch over them all the time.  But with all her work and time going to the case, her kids know George better than they know her.  In a tragic scene that tells it all, George tells her that her youngest child spoke for the first time one day, while she is talking to him on the car phone.

But things go well soon after he leaves her, to go have a life.  The firm is able to get her a new car, and enough money to hire a nanny.  Her life goes up and down and up and down again. 

She uses her body to its full advantage, too.  It is both funny and insulting, though.  The scenes with the young man who clerks the public works archives are hilarious.  She gets more help than she needs with her push-up bras.  But when her boss asks her to dress in a less revealing way for work, he goes about it the wrong way.  She did not dress in a professional manner, and he should have told her so.  Instead, he tells her that the other women are complaining.  The others, of course, have nowhere near the body that she has.  If he wanted people to take his business seriously, then he should have told her so.  Ironically, when she shows up for meetings with clients and with the other lawyers, she does dress much more conservatively.  But it's still fun to remember her telling them that she gave over six hundred blow jobs to get the residents to agree to his proposal!  "Can I sit?" she asks, then falls into a chair.  "I'm tired!"

The one weak link I thought was the one that sealed the case, with the employee who was supposed to destroy documents coming to her and giving her a copy of one he preserved, linking the company with its parent company.  It came late in the game, and on the sly.  The creepy character turned out to be the good guy who saved the case.

I did like the way the actual case wasn't shown.  We didn't need the court details.  All we got was a wonderful scene where Erin goes to the house where all of this started, and tells her how much money she was going to get. 

I thought it could have ended there, but the epilogue shows the firm's new offices, and Erin's private office, and we get to see her chew out her boss again when he presents her with her bonus check.  She thinks he will short-change her, when he has actually given her more than double what they agreed on.  The scene was predictable, but cute, nonetheless.

The movie was appropriately named, as every other character was pushed to the wayside as Erin investigated the case.  She eventually gets George back, and I think her kids learn to respect her.  The settlement was huge, and the movie makes it look like the toll it took on her life was worth it. 

 
   

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