Erin Brockovich

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Peter Coyote.
MPAA Rating: R for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
March 17, 2000

Julia Roberts may not make the best films in the world, but she hasn't made any bad ones lately. For a star of her stature, that's a pretty good accomplishment. Last year she had major hits with Notting Hill and Runaway Bride. Fluff, surely, but enjoyable fluff that sells. Her first entry of this year is more of the same.

She plays the title character in Erin Brockovich, based on a true story. After going through a second divorce, Erin's luck only got worse when she was seriously hurt in a car accident. She hired Ed Masry (Albert Finney) to represent her in a civil suit against the man who struck her. They lose the case, and she is jobless with no cash and in extensive debt to the hospital. She shows up at Masry's firm and starts working there, before she is hired or even interviewed. Surprised by her will and sympathetic to her situation, he hires her as a file clerk.

While Erin was going through the file of a real estate case, she inexplicably finds medical records. She investigates the case on her own, and finds out that a power company has been poisoning the people who live around their plant. Despite a total lack of education or legal experience, she puts together a massive case against the power company on behalf of the disease-stricken members of the community.

This film is a pretty typical David-vs-Goliath story, with a spunky single mom and a two-bit lawyer taking on a billion-dollar corporation. As you can tell from the ads, Roberts' breasts are a major part of her character. Even though there is little creativity to elevate it from the TV docudrama level, charismatic performances from Roberts and Finney make it worth watching. A witty screenplay by Susannah Grant (Ever After) keeps a good balance of laughs and obligatory sob scenes.

An interesting casting decision is Aaron Eckhart as Erin's nanny/boyfriend. I still can only think of him as the chillingly creepy Chad from In the Company of Men. Here, he plays a genuinely nice guy, who happens to be a biker -- ponytail, handlebar mustache, and everything. That would seem to be the only oddity introduced by director Steven Soderbergh, who makes his most linear and "commercial" film to date. Gone is the playful use of time he experimented with in Out of Sight and The Limey. Without forcing the film to be "artistic" he can better concentrate on telling the story, which he does quite well.

If it weren't for such an awkward title, Erin Brockovich would be a sure-fire hit. If people get the marketing message (Julia Roberts is Erin Brockovich) then Roberts will continue her streak. I just hope that she uses her talent to do something more provocative in the future.

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Erin Brockovich (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan