Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Erin Brockovich

Film #355

THE PLOT

An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.

Year 1, Day 355

BEFORE: Erin Brockovich is the second in this Julia Roberts mini-chain and also kicks off a multi-day biography chain. This could have gone well with Green Zone from Tuesday, but alas, I had to wait to learn about court cases against major energy corporations.

AFTER: “You’re a lawyer?” “No… I hate lawyers. I only work for them.” This exchange between Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) and client Donna Jensen (Marg Helgenberger) highlight’s Brockovich’s personality - one that is very polarizing and helps make this film the gem that it is.

The film opens up with the title character, Erin Brockovich, interviewing for a job at some medical place. In this scene alone we discover that she is strong, determined, and wants to do the right thing. She has three kids at home and is an unemployed single mom. Life isn’t too easy for her and she struggles to get by, but she rarely lets that show. Instead, we see how her determination and way with words is able to land her a job at the law firm that failed to win her personal injury case. It’s very similar to the Coke Zero “AND” ad; Brockovich isn’t satisfied with taking the easy way out and the resulting attitude is extremely entertaining. The film is littered with one-liners like the one above and longer monologues including some emotional ones towards the end. Erin Brockovich may not intentionally be focused on her character and the way she acts (it’s really about the more important pollution by an energy giant and the lawsuit that followed which I haven’t even mentioned yet) but that sure is one of the best parts. While not everything about the way Brockovich is depicted is perfect (more on that in a moment), it does go a long way in helping the viewer follow along with the real focus of the film: the court case.

An important word of the sentence above is “depiction”. Erin Brockovich is based off a true story: a real court case with real clients, real lawyers, and a very real settlement. As I’ve said many times before for based-on-a-true-story films, I can’t necessarily critique the validity of these things (they actually happened) but I can critique the way they are presented and how believable they seem given the information we’re presented. Erin Brockovich, in addition to my description above also never completed high school and doesn’t have many (or any) skills typically needed for a job. And yet, she’s able to make, and in many ways run, this multi-million dollar, 634 plaintiff lawsuit against a $28 billion dollar corporation. Now I’m not denying that she is a smart person and can learn things along the way to reach a level where what she’s doing is plausible, but for the most part it seems too much. Especially in the beginning when Brockovich is first starting to investigate and is only talking to a handful of people. Or even before that when she notices something odd about a case she’s filing (there are medical documents in a real estate case). Again, this may be true to what happened in real life, but from what we see in the film, are we really supposed to believe that she can figure out PG&E was polluting the local water and actively trying to cover it up simply by noticing something odd by looking through case files that would make no sense without even some basic research into what they mean. What happens and what we see don’t always match up and it leads to some believability issues with the film.

Now I’ve somehow managed to stay away from several important aspects to this film like Brockovich’s kids, George’s (Aaron Eckhart) role in the family, the impact the clients have on Brockovich, and many other areas of interest. While they are extremely important, for the purposes of knowing whether you should watch this film are not, they can be done without. Erin Brockovich is an incredible true story that’s made possible by a well-defined character who is played wonderfully by Julia Roberts. Not everything we see can be taken without question, many times our disbelief cannot be suspended, but you can look by these issues enough to really enjoy this film. And it’s not only dramatic, but it’s quite funny too. Definitely worth taking a look at.

RATING: 4 out of 5