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With: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Peter Coyote
Written by: Susannah Grant
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 130
Date: 03/14/2000

Erin Brockovich (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Julia Roberts Gets Down to Earth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm having a bit of a problem with Erin Brockovich. It's exactly the kind of movie that I can't stand and wouldn't recommend. And yet as I watched it, I found myself really enjoying it.

Let me explain. Erin Brockovich is a soap-box movie, a movie that has a political agenda. These movies usually skate by on their politics and social consciousness rarely bothering to actually be movies. They're lectures rather than stories. Two examples are Norma Rae (1979) and Silkwood (1983), which people praised because the messages were good even though the movies weren't.

But, like I said, Erin Brockovich is an exception. With director Steven Soderbergh at the helm and Julia Roberts in the title role, the movie breezes by enjoyably without so much as a grandstanding speech or an awkward moment.

Soderbergh is one of our best and most unpredictable directors. His last two efforts were crime films, Out of Sight (1998) and The Limey (1999), and they couldn't have been more different from one another. The Limey experimented with sound and editing, while Out of Sight made great use of atmosphere, color, and shadow. The thing that they possessed in common was a sleek, almost invisible, professionalism. Soderbergh brings to a picture what he thinks it needs the most. And without compromising the story of Erin Brockovich, he makes it move fluidly, seamlessly, and engagingly. I never lost interest in this movie.

This true story centers around Brockovich (Roberts), a single mother who gets a job in a small-time law firm and becomes entangled in a big case involving PG&E's contamination of a small town's water supply. With the help of her boss (Albert Finney), she successfully sues the big company and wins $333 million for 634 suffering people.

Julia Roberts is usually relegated to romantic comedies, and when she tries to break out of them, her fans stay away. Here she has perhaps her best role, and she plays it to the hilt. She pulls off being vulgar and practical at the same time. Her character manages to get in four-letter words and references to body parts when she's supposed to be noble. And because we're used to her in lightweight movies, she comes to this role with less weight than a Meryl Streep or a Sally Field would have brought.

Likewise, Albert Finney has one of his better roles in years as the small-time lawyer who hires Brockovich and reluctantly goes to the mat against the giant company. Even the smaller roles, filled by Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, and other performers too numerous to name, are played professionally and memorably. And the real Erin Brockovich has a cameo as a watiress.

Erin Brockovich was made -- and saved -- by the right people. It never rings false and I was never squirming in my seat. It's a very good entertainment that comes packaged with a message, something that rarely happens. I still can't believe my eyes.

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