A Civil Action (1998)

PG-13  |   |  Drama  |  8 January 1999 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.5/10 from 22,490 users   Metascore: 68/100
Reviews: 177 user | 109 critic | 26 from Metacritic.com

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



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



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bruce Norris ...
William Cheeseman
Neil Jacobs
Richard Aufiero
Al Eustis


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


$60,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$70,079 (USA) (25 December 1998)


$56,702,901 (USA) (30 April 1999)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


The real Jerome Facher was thrilled at the way he was portrayed by veteran actor Robert Duvall. See more »


None of the characters speak with a Boston accent. 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 »


References Blue Collar (1978) See more »


Hard Workin' Man
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Lyrics by Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder, Paul Schrader
Performed by Don Van Vliet (as Captain Beefheart)
Courtesy of MCA Records
Under license from Universal Music Special Markets
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Travolta shines in well written fare
2 January 2001 | by (Woking, England) – See all my reviews

Starting the film as the traditional stereotypical lowlife lawyer, John Travolta is actually superb as his character develops into someone who actually cares about his clients, and about people other than himself.

Robert Duvall is excellent as his opposing counsel, and his character's interplay in the courtroom drama with Travolta is worth seeing the film for alone. Duvall plays quirky characters like few else in modern cinema.

Given the job of prosecuting a tannery over water pollution that has led to the death of many children, this is well written and structured - as well as being brilliantly acted and well directed.

The one complaint I would have is that this petered out a little in the finish, which was perhaps inevitable as it's a true story, and sometimes the climax of real life isn't as good as in fiction.

16 of 20 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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