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A Civil Action (1998)

PG-13 | | Drama | 8 January 1999 (USA)
1:03 | Trailer

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The families of children who died, sue two companies for dumping toxic waste: a tort so expensive to prove, the case could bankrupt their lawyers.



(book), (screenplay)
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bruce Norris ...
Neil Jacobs


Jan Schlichtmann, a tenacious lawyer, is addressed by a group of families. When investigating the seemingly non-profiting case, he finds it to be a major environmental issue that has a lot of impact potential. A leather production company could be responsible for several deadly cases of leukemia, but also is the main employer for the area. Schlichtmann and his three colleagues set out to have the company forced to decontaminate the affected areas, and of course to sue for a major sum of compensation. But the lawyers of the leather company's mother company are not easy to get to, and soon Schlichtmann and his friends find themselves in a battle of mere survival. Written by Julian Reischl <julianreischl@mac.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Justice has its price.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some strong language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

8 January 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Una acción civil  »


Box Office


$75,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$70,079, 27 December 1998, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$56,702,901, 2 May 1999
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Robert Duvall, Kathy Bates, and Sydney Pollack; and four Oscar nominees: William H. Macy, Kathleen Quinlan, John Lithgow, and John Travolta. See more »


When Boston and Jan Schlichtmann's office suffers a widespread power outage during an evening thunderstorm, he uses a PBX90 AT&T Merlin office phone which would've been inoperable without AC electricity thus he couldn't have called Al Eustis at W.R. Grace. See more »


[first lines]
Jan Schlichtmann: [narrating] It's like this. A dead plaintiff is rarely worth as much as a living, severely-maimed plaintiff. However, if it's a long slow agonizing death, as opposed to a quick drowning or car wreck, the value can rise considerably. A dead adult in his 20s is generally worth less than one who is middle aged. A dead woman less than a dead man. A single adult less than one who's married. Black less than white. Poor less than rich. The perfect victim is a white male professional, 40 ...
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Crazy Credits

The producers wish to thank the people of Boston, Waltham, Northbridge, Charlestown, Dedham, Brimfield and Palmer, MA. See more »


Featured in The 56th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1999) See more »


Take Me to the River
Music and Lyrics by Al Green and Teenie Hodges
Performed by Talking Heads
Courtesy of Sire Records Company
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products and licensed courtesy of EMI Records Ltd.
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User Reviews

Straightforward legal case with environmental overtures...
20 June 2006 | by See all my reviews

John Travolta gives a dandy performance as a cocky Boston personal injury lawyer who heads up a small but burgeoning firm, almost passing up on headline-making case of a major food company subsidiary found to be dumping toxic chemicals into the water supply of a small-town Massachusettes town, causing many of the children there to get sick or die. Neatly directed and scripted film from Jonathan Harr's factual book allows for both legal statistics and some dry legal humor, and avoids exploiting an emotionally-wrenching theme (the death of children) for hug-tugging sentiment. The film is direct and compact, pausing only occasionally for a dramatic character turn, and is handsomely-made if not terrifically entertaining. Travolta and nemesis lawyer Robert Duvall (smiling like the Cheshire Cat) are wonderful to watch sparring with one another, and the specifics of the case are intriguing. **1/2 from ****

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