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A Civil Action (1998)

PG-13 | | Drama | 8 January 1999 (USA)
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A tenacious lawyer takes on a case involving a major company responsible for causing several people to be diagnosed with leukemia due to the town's water supply being contaminated, at the risk of bankrupting his firm and career.

Director:

Steven Zaillian

Writers:

Jonathan Harr (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
John Travolta ... Jan Schlichtmann
Robert Duvall ... Jerome Facher
Tony Shalhoub ... Kevin Conway
William H. Macy ... James Gordon
Zeljko Ivanek ... Bill Crowley
Bruce Norris Bruce Norris ... William Cheeseman
John Lithgow ... Judge Walter J. Skinner
Kathleen Quinlan ... Anne Anderson
Peter Jacobson ... Neil Jacobs
Mary Mara ... Kathy Boyer
James Gandolfini ... Al Love
Stephen Fry ... Pinder
Dan Hedaya ... John Riley
David Thornton ... Richard Aufiero
Sydney Pollack ... Al Eustis
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

Justice has its price.

Genres:

Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

8 January 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Una acción civil See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$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

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Several scenes described in the book were reproduced in the film, such as Facher's asking for the hotel pen at the settlement conference, Schlictmann's meeting with Eustis at the Harvard Club in New York City, Gordon's attempts to keep the firm solvent (even purchasing lottery tickets and giving money to televangelists) and Riley's behavior at his deposition. See more »

Goofs

Near the end of the movie, Jan states that only 5 out of 50 appeals win and that the odds are easy to calculate, 10 to 1 against. Actually, that's 45 to 5, or only 9 to 1 against. See more »

Quotes

[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 ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

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

Connections

Referenced in A Civil Action: In Pusuit of Justice (1998) See more »

Soundtracks

Little Drummer Boy
(1958)
Written by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone
Performed by Wiener Sängerknaben (as Vienna Boys Choir) and London Symphony Orchestra (as London Symphony Orchestra)
Courtesy of Sony Music Special Products, a division of Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Good film – but what happened to the case!
8 June 2002 | by bob the mooSee all my reviews

Personal injury lawyer Jan Schlichtmann is approached by a group of families who believe they are being poisoned by a toxic waste dump near their water supply as many of their children have developed leukemia. Two of America's biggest law firms defend the case which stretches over 9 years and threatens to bankrupt Schlichtmann's firm and all it's staff.

I approached this film with firm expectations. I work as an environmental consultant and in part of my law training I was advised to read the book as it was a good case study (albeit a 500 page case study) on a environmental case. The book was fascinating if a little heavy in detail. For the film I knew that much of it was going to be trimmed but I didn't realize how much. The `trimmed' bit is the whole case! There is none of the trial instead any court room scenes are more focused on the characters than the case.

As a film this still plays well and is entertaining if not enlightening or interesting. It still carries the mantle of being `true' but without any of the book's case detail it is never more than a Grisham-esque drama despite having a better ending.

The cast are great – easily turning out for a worthy film and they are rewarded because the characters get much better treatment than the facts. Travolta does well but doesn't manage to be as real as the book's portrayal of Schlichtmann. Duvall is good while the rest of the cast are very much support but manage to be deep. When names like William H Macy, Shalhoub, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Stephen Fry, Dan Hedaya and James Gandolfini are all in support then you rightly expect it to be a very worthy film.

Overall this is a good film that is entertaining. There is a more powerful, more interesting and moving captivating story at it's heart – anyone wanting that story should read the book.


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