Review of Erin Brockovich (2000) starring Julia Roberts
Release Date: March 17, 2000
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Run Time: 130 Min.
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich is the true story of a struggling single mom who takes on a giant US energy corporation because it's the right thing to do. After being settled in court, the case would result in the largest settlement ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in US history.
Julia Roberts portrays the hot-headed and persistent title character of Erin Brockovich. The role won her an Oscar as well as several other awards in 2001. The movie itself also received great recognition, as it was nominated in four categories at the Golden Globes and in five at the 73rd annual Academy Awards.
The story behind the movie begins in 1991, with two-time divorcee Erin Brockovich struggling to make ends meet with three young children to feed. After losing a personal injury lawsuit against a doctor, Erin asks her lawyer, Edward Masry (played by Albert Finney), if he can find her a job to compensate for losing the case. After her phone calls go unreturned, she shows up at Ed's L.A. office where he relents and gives her a position as a file clerk. It's here that Erin Brockovich stumbles upon some of the files from a pro-bono case involving the residents of Hinkley, California and a utility giant named PG&E. Confused and curious as to why a company like Pacific Gas and Electric would offer to purchase the home of a town resident, Erin begins to dig deeper. Around this same time she ends up falling for her next door neighbor, a self-employed Harley Davidson biker named George (Aaron Eckhart).
Though she initially cussed him out, George sees the beauty behind Erin's tough exterior. He offers her a helping hand by watching her kids in the daytime so that she can work while investigating the Hinkley case.
One night while she's in a bar, Brockovich meets a mysterious man who claims that he was once asked to destroy documents at PG&E. He says he declined to do so after noticing the medical conditions plaguing the
workers who worked in the unlined ponds. Erin immediately pursues the lead and discovers a document from 1966 that ties a conversation between a corporate executive at the San Francisco PG&E headquarters and the Hinkley station. The exchange proves that corporate headquarters knew the water was contaminated and didn't do anything about it. They even advised the Hinkley location to keep it a secret from the town's residents.
Aside from examining documents, a big part of Erin Brockovich involves her visiting the affected families in Hinkley. Ultimately she puts the pieces together and discovers that Pacific Gas & Electric has launched a full-scale cover-up of its industrial poisoning of the town's water supply. Hexavalent chromium has tainted the groundwater, which in turn has caused extensive illness within the Hinkley community. Though the residents are grieving and confused, they are unaware that this may be to blame for their health problems. By educating these people and caring about them, they come to trust Erin and her mission. Ultimately she is the town's champion. According to Brockovich's official website, the lawsuit spear-headed by her and Ed Masry resulted in PG&E being forced to pay out $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents in 1996.
Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars. What makes this movie even more meaningful is the fact that it's based on a true story. Brockovich confirms on her website that the 2000 film adheres very closely to the path she traveled almost twenty years ago.
The real entertainment factor is provided in the performance given by Julia Roberts. As Erin, she's humorously sassy, acting out her character with charming vigor despite near-constant profanity and inappropriate workplace attire. Newsweek's David Ansen calls her portrayal of Brockovich "brash" and "tenacious", adding that she plays a "trash-talking heroine unlike any she's played before." Julia and co-star Albert Finney also have excellent chemistry onscreen, butting heads in the office while maintaining great respect for one another. Finney is especially likable as veteran attorney Ed Masry. In his part he treats Erin like something in between a daughter and an apprentice.
Some movie critics felt Roberts' portrayal of the title character was too distracting, though. Roger Ebert wrote that the film "lacks focus and energy", calling its character development "facile and thin". Considering all of the cast members (with the exception of Roberts), this statement does appear to hold true. For example, the characters of George and Ed Masry are pleasant and very likable, but they are on the sidelines next to the intense Erin.
No matter what, the story behind the movie is a powerful and moving one. Erin Brockovich reached out to the residents of Hinkley not for money or praise, but because she felt compelled to help people who were suffering. And given her position at the time, this is especially commendable.