A Civil Action (1998) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some strong language
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Stephen Fry, James Gandolfini, Dan Hedaya
Director: Steven Zaillian
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Jonathan Harr)
Review published July 8, 1999
Based on a true story. Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta, Primary Colors), sensing a quick settlement to avoid negative press, takes on a couple of multimillion dollar companies on behalf of a handful of families who lost their children in a case involving polluted water. The companies do not want to succumb to his demands, instead letting the trial progress knowing the upstart injury lawyer would not have enough money to prosecute them fully. Facing bankruptcy, Schlichtmann must make the choice to settle before the trial breaks him financially or proceed in an effort to bring out the truth behind the deaths.
Brilliantly directed by writer/director Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer), here in only his second turn in the chair. Top-notch performances by all, with Duvall turning in a particularly memorable performance. The film is based on a true story, but it does a superb job in keeping you guessing how it will turn out in the end. The only downside comes from the relative unimportance of the case, but it's still engaging. The quality of the talent is so good, it's doubtful to believe this material could have been better handled. Well-crafted, gripping and thought-provoking entertainment.
©1999 Vince Leo