Click here 3 and a half stars

Julia Roberts




Erin Go Brag
Julia Roberts stars in a true story
of a woman who became a hero

"Erin Brockovich"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

You never know what's going to change people. We all go along our merry ways, never suspecting that around the corner, some event is going to turn our lives completely around. I guess that's why they call them "life events."

Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a single mother, unemployed, struggling to make ends meet in a world not particularly kind to single moms (ask Da Queen about it sometime). After a car accident leads her to seek legal rederess, she meets lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney) on a referral. When he loses her lawsuit, she shows up at his office, demanding a job, barely hiding her desperation. Intimidated, Ed gives her one.

Julia Roberts, Albert FinneyAt first her brassy attitude, provocative dress and, ummm, colorful idioms win her no respect or friendship in Masry's staid office of clerks and legal assistants. When she finds a confusing file (a pro bono real estate case with medical files attached), she asks a distracted Masry if she can research the case further. He offhandedly tells her yes, never dreaming she would open up a can of worms the size of the Sears tower.

See, Pacific Gas and Electric of Southern California is trying to buy property near its Hinkley, California, plant to make way for an offramp for an interstate freeway that will make it more convenient for its workers to get to work. It so happens that the family in one of the homes thinks the price PG&E is offering is a bit low, so they've retained Masry's services to negotiate for them. Y'see, they have to get a higher price, due to the mounting medical bills of both the husband (stricken with Hodgkin's Disease) and wife (multiple forms of cancer), as well as the kids (who are sickly and suffer from unusually nosebleeds).

DVD features

Quite a bit, actually, with audio commentary from director Steven Soderbergh, a making-of featurette, an extensive array of deleted scenes (the final cut had a running time of about an hour less than the first cut) and an especially moving interview with the real Brockovich, who nearly loses her composure when discussing how the community of Hinkley came together to make its voices heard.

As Brockovich digs deeper, she discovers the shocking truth: PG&E had been using chromium as an anti-rust agent in their compressors. But instead of the relatively benign (and expensive) chromium-3, they're using the highly toxic and often lethal chromium-6. And, because as a cost-cutting measure they haven't properly lined the retaining pool where the chromium is being dumped after use, the chromium has seeped into the ground water of Hinkley. As a result, the people of Hinkley have been infected with a variety of cancers and other diseases linked directly to chromium-6 poisoning.

However, it's an uphill battle, even though Brockovich has uncovered documentation that the corporate suits at PG&E not only knew what had been going on in Hinkley for a quarter of a century, but had instructed fuctionaries to lie about it. PG&E is a billion-dollar utility with nearly unlimited resources at its disposal, while Masry's firm is a small one with Masry himself more inclined to retirement than taking on a corporate Goliath.

Julia Roberts, Aaron EckhartIt's an inspiring story, more so because it happens to be true (the real Brockovich appears briefly as a waitress). Roberts gives one of the most riveting performances of her career, making the character of Erin Brockovich come to life. She is vulnerable, full of self-doubt but in the end, she's possessed of enormous sympathy, finding not only her calling in this crusade, but finding herself as well. Finney's Masry is a good-hearted man (as lawyers go), a bit intimidated by the force of Brockovich's personality but at the end of the day, his instincts are to do the right thing. The supporting cast, which includes Conchata Ferrell as a bitchy secretary, Peter Coyote as a supercillious lawyer and Aaron Eckhart as Brockovich's gentle biker boyfriend, is solid.

Director Steve Soderbergh ("Sex, Lies and Videotape") wisely sticks to the facts in this case, which are compelling enough. It's not just a triumph of the little guy over the big nasty corporation, it's the journey of one woman down the path of self-discovery as well. Brockovich, who refuses to conform to any standard other than her own, is never taken seriously by anyone until she finds respect through her efforts in this crusade.

Perhaps the most admirable thing about Brockovich is that though others begin to accept her and respect her, she is still basically the same woman in the tight, lowcut halters and miniskirts she's always been. If only the world had more Erin Brockoviches in it, perhaps there would be more honesty in it.

Theater or Video?
By all means, you'll want to see this in the privacy of your own home.
DVD at Amazon.
VHS at Amazon.

See cast, credit and other details about "Erin Brockovich" at Internet Movie Data Base.