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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
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Multiple characters make subtle fun of Mr. Cheeseman's name, emphasizing CHEESE-man. James Gandolfini calls him Chessman after his deposition, subtly implying he is merely a pawn. This is reinforced later when Facher (Robert Duvall) refers to himself and Schlichtman (John Travolta) as Kings. Several shot set-ups also emphasize the chess-theme being played out in court. See more »


At the meeting in the hotel where Jan asks for $300+ million, Cheeseman begins calculating the figures on a pad of paper with his left hand. A cut to an over-the-shoulder shot shows him writing the figures with his right hand. 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 71st Annual Academy 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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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Skillful rendition of the book on film.
31 January 1999 | by See all my reviews

How to interpret viewer comments on this film:

"Slow-moving" = ...no car chases.

"poor acting" = ...no karate chops

"too long" = ...longer than a music video

"dull" = ...See "Slow-moving"

"A Civil Action" was a fine book, and the film does it justice. No, it's not perfect, but it is emotionally moving, and faithful to the non-fiction account of the case.

Some of the heart-rending short scenes featuring parents of the child-victims (the father at the deposition; the parents trying to revive the dying child in the car) were absolute masterpieces. There should be special Academy Awards available for brief scenes of this kind that are too "small" for Best Supporting Actor awards, but are, in themselves, worthy of acclaim.

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