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.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.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.
It is in this capacity that she uncovers, entirely by accident, a paper trail leading to the town of Hinkley, CA, where an endless stream of residents have been diagnosed with various medical conditions including cancer, disintegrating spinal cords and brain damage. It turns out that the community of Hinkley has been poisoned by hexavalent chromium, leaching into the drinking water from the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) plant. The case is especially odious because PG&E knew exactly what it was doing but lied about what kind of chromium it was using. Erin gains the trust of the community to mount legal action and strong-arms Ed to put together a case that would win the largest direct claim settlement in American history, even as her personal life is threatened by her devotion to the case.
Steven Soderbergh tests Erin's limits of likability numerous times throughout the movie. An early scene is designed to show what a short fuse Erin has when she explodes in a torrent of profanity in the courtroom. Erin, the film makes clear early on, is no sentimental crusader. Rather, she is a tough, hard-nosed cookie who dresses like a hoochie and who would use anything from here heavily coiffured hair to her cleavage or also her baby to get what she needs. In short, Erin is adrift in a hard world. But what makes this potentially despicable character so affable is Julia Roberts' vulnerable and fiercely dynamic performance. As the eponymous character, she is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the film. As a foil for Erin, Albert Finney draws out a complex, engaging performance that is as warm as it is funny. Their scenes together crackle with chemistry and it's a joy to see this kind of male/female interaction where there is absolutely no hint of sexual attraction.
Soderbergh infuses the proceedings with a vibrant, almost peppy sense of style that would not have been half as compelling had a less edgy director helmed it. It would have been easy for him to have allowed Erin Brockovich to descend into manipulative melodrama, but he resists that path of least resistance, instead giving us a film that is smart, savvy, funny, and, at times, poignant.
- Apr 27, 2015