Erin Brockavich

Erin Brockovich is one of those sappy human-interest stories that screams disaster. Watching the little guy triumph over much larger people is bad enough, and it is even worse when the story is true. Surprisingly enough, Erin Brockovich overcomes its deficiencies and is actually quite enjoyable. The movie succeeds because of the good performances by Julia Roberts (Notting Hill, Runaway Bride) and Albert Finney (Breakfast of Champions, Simpatico), and the always excellent direction of Steven Soderbergh (The Limey, Out of Sight). Erin Brockovich details the role the title character played in helping to bring down Pacific Gas & Electric in 1993. PG&E settled a lawsuit alleging they knowingly misled the small town of Hinkley, California into believing the water they drank was safe, when in actuality, it was tainted with hexavalent chromium, a substance toxic to humans. In the end, PG&E settled for $333 million, the largest settlement ever in a direct action lawsuit.

Knowing the end does not spoil the rest of the movie. Brockovich (Roberts) is a spunky, down-on-her-luck woman who manages to finagle a job from lawyer Ed Masry (Finney). For people who like random facts, the real Brockovich and Masry appear in the movie, Brockovich as a waitress and Masry as a diner. Brockovich stumbles upon medical records in a real estate file concerning one of Masry's clients, which piques her interest. Her interest grows as she learns more about Hinkley and its residents. It seems that a statistically disproportionate number of the residents were ill with rare diseases. What began small mushroomed into a huge case with over four hundred plaintiffs. Masry's main concern was that PG&E had billions of dollars in backing, while he was only one independent lawyer.

So does the character of Brockovich in the movie actually reflect her, or is it more of Roberts' acting or the script by Richard LaGravanese (Living Out Loud) and Susannah Grant (Ever After)? Probably a little bit of them all. Roberts effectively steals the spotlight away from every other actor in the film, except perhaps for Masry. Her character constantly shifts from loving mother to harried poor woman to annoying person, but it never feels like acting or different characters, just different facets of an incredibly complex woman. Roberts proves that she is a great actress, and hopefully she will experiment more in the roles she chooses. It's fun watching her in a romantic comedy, but come on, it's getting a little old. Aaron Eckhart (Any Given Sunday, Your Friends and Neighbors) does nothing as Brockovich's neighbor/boyfriend. His character is shallow, and serves merely as a wooden block Brockovich can talk to. Finney also gives a good performance, holding his own and fleshing out Masry's character while serving as a foil to Roberts.

A lot of detail was given in trying to keep the story factual. After the backlash given to The Hurricane, particular attention was given to the fact that the adapted story remained accurate. With a story as compelling as this one, it is hard to see why anyone would want to embellish it. Soderbergh is an actor's director, always bringing out the best in his actors. Soderbergh's camera moves constantly, jerking back and forth like an actual spectator observing the proceedings. It is because of Soderbergh that the Brockovich character does not come across as annoying as she actually is. He intersperses her story with the story of the resident's of Hinkley. None of them are too compelling, but it is a nice break from the constant sass. But in the end, Brockovich's personality dominates, and viewers just become annoyed.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad
2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated R for language.

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