Erin Brockovich (2000)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Susannah Grant
Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Peter Coyote

My Advice: Don't Miss It.

Erin Brockovich (Roberts) is in a bit of a spot.  Not only does she have three kids, but she also has multiple husbands--all bearing that pesky "ex" prefix.  She has no job and little to no money and through slightly less than ordinary circumstances winds up working in a law office under the somewhat disagreeable Ed Masry (Finney).  She looks as though she's not going to be in this job for long, but then she stumbles upon what could be a huge corporate cover-up--responsible for making an entire town gravely ill.

Let's get some stuff out of the way first.  This is a film you've seen before--make no mistake.  It's the time-honored story of David and Goliath all over again.  Most recently, we saw David cast as John Travolta, lawyer in a small firm, in A Civil Action, a comparison that's getting a great deal of play with critics. But whereas that David was searching for a way to simply do the right thing for once, this David is searching for a purpose for her life. The fact that the character is played by Julia Roberts, giving what I consider to be the best performance of her career thus far, is only more fuel for the fire.

Now, there really is an Erin Brockovich, but since I don't know much about the real woman-behind-the-story, I can only speak to the story. I'm sure there were some liberties taken with the source material, but we never get hung up on that around here-- so long as what comes out the other end is quality. And in this case we're pleased: Roberts wouldn't have been able to pull this off without having been handed a great character by scribe Susannah Grant. The script walks a nice balance between legal mystery and comedy, without ever becoming unbalanced. Coupled with direction from Soderbergh, the piece moves very smartly, keeping things reasonably light and then reminding us that these are fully fleshed out characters going through a great trial.

Back to Roberts for a second, so I can discuss this concept of "fully fleshed out." And I'm not talking about the choice of costuming for her character, so get over it. The key to seeing how well Roberts performs is to watch her around her character's three children. The relationship there is so very natural, it makes you forget that you're watching a Julia Roberts Movie TM. The other reason that's easy to forget is because of the two supporting actors behind her. Albert Finney deserves an Oscar nom, although since Best Supporting is always a crowded category for men--there's no telling. He plays the perfect foil to Roberts and is just a joy to watch. It's good to see Aaron Eckhart with another meaty role. He plays the most well-rounded and intellectual construction worker/biker I've ever seen in film. They exist in real life, I've met some--so don't laugh.

It all comes down to this: if you're looking for a taut, Grishamesque story, then you've come to the wrong place. But if you're trying to find a solid, well-crafted film which makes you believe there are still good people somewhere in the world--you're there. It's a fun movie with a heart, and definitely worth the big screen treatment.

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