Erin Brockovich


Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by:Susannah Grant
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger
Released: April 13, 2000
Grade: B

Julia Roberts has built herself into one of the great actresses of all time.  This may sound like a bold statement but when you look at her box-office draw, she slaughters the opposition.  Every film she touches turns to gold - Erin Brockovich is on its way to becoming the fourth film in two years for Roberts to gross over $100m (following My Best Friends Wedding, Notting Hill and The Runaway Bride).

In trying to slip away from her romantic tag, Roberts takes on the role of Erin Brockovich.  Based on a true story, Erin has been through several jobs, two husbands and has little to show for it except for two kids.  When injured in a car accident she thinks her life may have turned for the better when she hires lawyer Ed Masry with the hope of a big payout.  Upon losing, Brockovich reaches breaking point and frustrated with her lawyer, promptly shows up at his office and says she’s not leaving until he employs her to make up for his broken promises.

It is here where she finds her calling.  Given the small job of filing some workpapers regarding a real-estate claim, she takes it upon herself to investigate further.  What she would uncover was a massive conspiracy from American electrical company PG&E.  They had knowledge that runoff from their machines was contaminating the water supply of a small Californian town but had concealed the information for over two decades.

Julia Roberts has never been nominated for Academy Award and it is roles like this that will start her on the road to critical admiration.  She is superb in her portrayal and shows a character with determination and spark.  Albert Finney (playing Ed Masry) outshines Roberts with his wonderful performance and has the greatest line in the film when he talks of the value of PG&E to both Roberts and an opposition lawyer.

The rest of the cast is great too (including In The Company Of Men’s Aaron Eckhart).  Thomas Newman continues his run of successful scores with some beautiful music suiting the film perfectly.  Steven Soderbergh (Out Of Sight) gives the movie an interesting, upbeat flavour with his direction.  It’s quick, jerky and focuses on characters rather than courtroom scenes and other legal matters.

Despite having all the ingredients, the life of Erin Brockovich isn’t that interesting or inspiring.  Again the story has been dazzled up to meet Hollywood standards and it’s really hard to buy.  A similar story was told in last year’s A Civil Action about a man and a law firm who risk everything to bring to trial a firm who was found polluting a river.  This is basically the same movie except you replace John Travolta with Julia Roberts and add a few more laughs.

This film touches on some interesting points but doesn’t dig below the surface.  There’s a moment in a meeting with the townsfolk where one asks - if we win, how do we divide the money between us?  A very good question that is never answered.  With over 600 people bringing an action against PG&E, you’d think there’d be many who weren’t happy with the judgment but you wouldn’t know looking at this film.  Erin Brockovich is made out to be a saint who has the ability to solve everyone’s problems with her charisma.

Surely though there must be more interesting people out there to make movies about.  Modern day movies always like to focus on people who hit bottom and then claw their way to the top (ala The Hurricane).  I enjoy uplifting stories as much as anyone, but why do they have to be portrayed like gods?  I guess I was warned though by the opening line of the movie - “This movie is based on a true story”.  It’s the new Hollywood disclaimer.