Erin Brockovich (2000) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 131 min.
Cast: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Peter Coyote, Marg Helgenberger
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Susannah Grant
Review published March 15, 2000
Based on a true story. Erin Brockovich (Roberts, Runaway Bride) is a struggling mother of three who bulldozes her way into working for a small law firm, and uncovers a possible coverup involving a powerful multi-billion dollar energy company who may have been responsible for the poor health of the residents living near one of their power plants. The small firm has their hands more than full in such a formidable foe, and the length of time it will take to sue may not only bankrupt the firm but the victims may not live long enough to see justice be done.
Two things should be abundantly clear after seeing the excellent Erin Brockovich: Julia Roberts may very well be the best bankable actress working today and Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, The Underneath) may be the best director no one's ever heard of. One almost wishes the film had been released three months before, because this is definitely an effort worthy of Oscar consideration, and not just for the star and director, but also Albert Finney (Looker, Big Fish) in the best performance he's given in almost two decades.
The story isn't really anything you haven't seen many times before, and in fact is quite similar to A Civil Action which came out only a couple of years before. What sets Erin Brockovich apart from these others is the attention to detail, the very witty script, and brilliant casting by Soderbergh. Every performance smacks of reality, even down to those of the children, who are so authentic you'd almost think they weren't acting at all.
Credit Roberts, Finney and Soderbergh for making one of the biggest surprises of 2000, because this is definitely a film that took real guts to make. Roberts is coming off a string of hugely successful romantic comedies that solidified her as a bonafide superstar, and a film about polluted water is definitely not something one would expect. It's ironic that Roberts' most improbable role might also just as improbably be her best ever.
Reportedly they spent $20 million in getting her services, which was also very risky considering the subject matter is not one that lends itself to being a blockbuster, and the fact that they are releasing it at a slow period for movies as at a time when it will probably not be in the hunt for the Academy Awards at the end of the year, there was so little going for it that it's astonishing at just how good it really is.
Erin Brockovich is about as funny, smart, interesting and inspiring movie as any this year and one can only hope Academy voters don't suffer from the short attention span that they are known for come nomination time.
©2001 Vince Leo