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Erin Brockovich

Rated [R], 131 minutes
Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart
Screenplay by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

As this film opens, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is at her wit's end, bogged down with the care of three kids, her two husbands having left her with $74 in her bank account. With no fancy degrees to her name and, despite her looks, an inability to charm a series of potential employers, she finagles a job as a research assistant to an attorney, Ed Masry (Albert Finney). By sheer coincidence, her new neighbour, a biker named George (Aaron Eckhart), is (by choice) unemployed and willing to take care of her kids while she's in the legal office scraping out a living. When Erin comes across evidence that an epidemic of illnesses in the town can be traced to the presence of chromium in the water supply, she convinces her boss to take on the perpetrators, PG & E [Pacific Gas and Electric), despite the time, money, and energy needed to pursue the case against an array of slick corporate lawyers.

The year hasn't started off too well in terms of mainstream Hollywood. So Steven Soderbergh's breezily energetic Erin Brockovich emerges as a major surprise. On the one hand, it would be easy to dismiss this David and Goliath story as being simplistic, which it is. But that's irrelevant in this case, because good stories are hard to find, and this tale of the single mother who helps crush a corporation, is simply an example of wonderful narrative cinema. The reality is, these films are designed to make audiences root for the underdog, otherwise what's the point. What is refreshing about Erin Brockovich is that it takes a familiar genre and turns it into a character piece. Here, with one or two small scenes, there is little of the film set in a courtroom, so we don't have the kinds of surprises that are renegaded to that arena. Instead, we have a solid yarn about a woman who puts her personal life on hold, while trying to help a community. Yet she's no flawless knight in shining armour, either, and her flaws, as well as her strengths, make this film considerably more entertaining and compelling than it otherwise would have been. In the title role, Roberts has been given the chance to finally prove that she's more than a wide grin (and in the case of this film, a moving wonder bra). Funny, feisty and genuinely charismatic, Roberts shimmers and shines here, delivering her most complete performance to date. It's a beautiful performance from that rare commodity: A true film star. She's aided by another compelling turn by co-star Albert Finney, who matches Roberts head-to-head, and is also remarkably funny, passionate and sardonic in his approach to the crusty lawyer.

With a sharp script by Susan Grant, and the wonderful direction of the extraordinary Soderbergh, this is not simply a star vehicle for Roberts, but a film that is hilarious and moving, dramatic and chilling. It is, a wonderful entertainment that never loses us for a frame, and that is such a rare commodity in the world of Hollywood cinema.

Cranky liked it, too. His review here.


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Copyright © 2000 Paul Fischer

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.