Erin Brockovich

on March 17, 2000 by Bridget Byrne

Finally a movie about an individual taking on unethical big business that is worthy of being compared to Capra at his least sentimental. With Julia Roberts proving her multi-wattage worth in the title role, "Erin Brockovich" is an energy filled modern day David and Goliath story, or in Erin's lingo "David and what's his name .."

Writer Susannah Grant and director Steven Soderbergh, while recognizing the Cinderella aspects of the true tale they are telling -- there's even a love scene in which this ex-beauty queen-turned-activist gets to wear her crown -- also manage to keep valid the everyday aspect of the story without getting bogged down in earnestness or resorting to shrill preaching.

This Cinderella can't just rely on sex appeal, although she has plenty of it, to get what she feels is deserved. A single mother of three, who stumbles into a worthy cause and runs with it, she also needs smarts and sass and unflagging determination to boost her obvious assets, displayed to the full in the good-time-girl fashions she favors. She also needs help, both from her reluctant boss, a lawyer who has to be constantly buffed and bullied back into the heart of his work, and from the guy-next-door who muffles his wandering spirit to play dutiful domestic. Not exactly traditional fairy godmother and prince in shining armor, these two very different men, nevertheless enable Erin to trounce the wicked giant, in this case PG&E, the power company whose shoddy practices have contaminated the health of the people of a California desert community.

Roberts is stunningly convincing and appealing in the role of this highly individualist Everywoman, gussied up in high heels, tiny skirts and boob revealing tops and equipped with a courageous mouth and a tenacious spirit. But she is well matched by Albert Finney, himself the owner of a still sexy grin, as Ed Masry, the world weary lawyer, who on the basis of Erin's leg work, takes the power company to court on behalf of more than 600 abused citizens. And Aaron Eckhart also has the big screen presence to hold his own as George, Erin's sometime biker lover and baby-sitter, although his role is somewhat more sidelined.

Among the supporting roles Marg Helgenberger has natural empathy as the first victim in the case, and it's worth looking out for Judge Leroy A. Simmons, playing himself making the right decision at the right moment, and the real Erin Brockovich playing a waitress.

Soderbergh doesn't play the locale false. His work reflects a sense of pleasure in the vibrancy of his stars, but is refreshingly free of the condescension too often on display when arty filmmakers focus on ordinary folks in unglamorous locations. There are just a few quibbles: the big firm lawyers who step in to help when it becomes expedient are played as clichZ s; Erin does seem to have too many clothes, even if they aren't pricey goods; and even though it's her calling (as the final shot of the film crystallizes) she knocks on a few too many doors during the course of the slightly overlong film. But when activism is this sexy it warms the heart, just like Julia as Erin. Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Susannah Grant. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. A Universal Picture and Columbia Pictures release. Drama. Rated R for strong language. Running time: 131 min

Tags: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Steven Soderbergh. Written by Susannah Grant. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. A Universal Picture and Columbia Pictures, drama

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