Much will be made of Julia Roberts’s wardrobe in Erin Brockovich—a brash parade of daring hemlines and Wonderbra confidence. Roberts is unabashedly sexy in the title role of this fact-based comedy-drama, but she and director Steven Soderbergh are far too intelligent to rely solely on high heels and cleavage. Susannah Grant’s brassy screenplay fuels this winning combination of star, director, and material, firing on all pistons with maximum efficiency. With Ed Lachman, his noted cinematographer from The Limey, Soderbergh tackles this A-list project…
Much will be made of Julia Roberts’s wardrobe in Erin Brockovich—a brash parade of daring hemlines and Wonderbra confidence. Roberts is unabashedly sexy in the title role of this fact-based comedy-drama, but she and director Steven Soderbergh are far too intelligent to rely solely on high heels and cleavage. Susannah Grant’s brassy screenplay fuels this winning combination of star, director, and material, firing on all pistons with maximum efficiency. With Ed Lachman, his noted cinematographer from The Limey, Soderbergh tackles this A-list project with the fervor of an independent, combining a no-frills look with kinetic panache and the same brisk editorial style he used in the justly celebrated Out of Sight.
Broke and desperate, the twice-divorced single mom Erin bosses her way into a clerical job with attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney), who’s indebted to Erin after failing to win her traffic-injury case. Erin is soon focused on suspicious connections between a mighty power company, its abuse of toxic chromium, and the poisoned water supply of Hinkley, California, where locals have suffered a legacy of death and disease. Matching the dramatic potency of Norma Rae and Silkwood, Erin Brockovich filters cold facts through warm humanity, especially in Erin’s rapport with dying victims and her relationship with George (superbly played by Aaron Eckhart), a Harley-riding neighbor who offers more devotion than Erin’s ever known. Surely some of these details have been embellished for dramatic effect, but the factual basis of Erin Brockovich adds a boost of satisfaction, proving that greed, neglect, and corporate arrogance are no match against a passionate crusader. (Trivia note: The real Erin Brockovich appears briefly as a diner waitress.) —Jeff Shannon
A lone woman, armed only with indomitable sass and her native wit, goes up against the corporate big boys and beats the bejesus out of them. As a story line it’s hardly new, but Steven Soderbergh’s film keeps it exhilaratingly fresh and lively—thanks not least to his lead actress. Seizing the role of the smart, mouthy, aggressively working-class Erin Brockovich with both hands, Julia Roberts gives it everything she’s got and then some. She’s well matched by Albert Finney as her grouchy but good-hearted boss and Aaron Eckhart as a sympathetic biker. The story’s based—by all accounts fairly closely—on actual events, when the real Erin (who appears briefly in the film as a kindly waitress) brought a massive lawsuit against utilities giant Pacific Gas and Electric for spreading toxic pollution. Rather than confine the action to courtroom shenanigans, Soderbergh takes us out under Southern California’s pitiless skies and along the dirt-poor roads where most of PG&E’s blue-collar victims live, letting us feel the ground-down exhaustion of their lives. But though it’s rooted in reality, the film’s anything but solemn. The script’s sharp and funny, full of unexpected twists; and Roberts, flaunting herself outrageously in an eye-popping array of push-up bras and micro-miniskirts, has never been better. —Philip Kemp
Barnes and Noble
A long-awaited commercial smash from acclaimed art-house director Steven Soderbergh and a personal triumph for star Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich energizes audiences with its unique combination of humor, pathos, and suspense. Roberts has never been better, bringing earthy wit and rough-hewn charm to her characterization of Erin, the real-life law clerk whose dogged pursuit of the truth culminates in a precedent-setting judgment against California’s largest utility company. When a routine investigation reveals that Pacific Gas & Electric’s toxic waste has slowly poisoned an entire desert community, Erin convinces her boss, ambulance-chasing attorney Ed Masry (played with gruff lovability by the superb Albert Finney), to bring suit against the giant corporation. Soderbergh (The Limey) directs in an appealingly straightforward manner, allowing his leggy star to dominate this contemporary David-and-Goliath story with her most vital performance to date. Genuinely involving, raucously funny, and at times profoundly moving, Erin Brockovich is one of those rare movies that truly does gets better with repeated viewings. Ed Hulse
In scoring Steven Soderbergh’s litigation-themed hit (wherein Julia Roberts’ tough-as-nails/sexy-mom character claws her way to an entry-level legal assistant job, then brings a multi-billion dollar industrial polluter to its knees), Thomas Newman again stakes his claim as Hollywood’s most consistently inventive young composer. Or make that reinventive—Newman breaths fresh life into the traditional, theme-based scoring concept (perhaps not surprisingly; his father Alfred Newman was one of Hollywood’s Golden Age masters), imbuing the film’s characters with…