Erin Brockovich (2000)

  Steven Soderbergh
Julia RobertsAlbert FinneyDavid Brisbin

Plot:  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.

  Biography / Drama
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Lead Actress.  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay.

Rating:  PG13 
for language. 

2000 was the Steven Soderbergh year.  Nominated for Oscars for Best Director for both Erin Brockovich and Traffic in the same year and winning it for the latter, the hit-and-miss director has achieved another personal milestone since his sharp Palme d'Or-winning debut with Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989). 

Touted as one of America’s most promising filmmakers in the early 1990s, Soderbergh has not been reliable enough as a filmmaker.  Some of his films are compelling, but some can frustrate as well.  He has never reached a level of cinematic consistency as well as say, Joel and Ethan Coen, arguably the best American directors of their generation. 

Erin Brockovich belongs to the ‘compelling Soderbergh’ category.  For the record, I do not think the film justified a Best Director Oscar nomination, but it remains to be one of the director’s better endeavors.  It is an exposé film based on a true story about a working-class mother’s quest to bring a huge corporation to its knees.  She talks her way into a job in a law firm and co-heads a winning investigation into industrial pollution by that corporation which has devastated a local community for decades.

Julia Roberts stars as Brockovich in an Oscar-winning role that showcased her acting range, defying critics who typecast her as a pretty face in romantic comedies.  Albert Finney in an Oscar-nominated role plays Ed Masry, the head of a small local law firm who unwillingly recruits Brockovich out of pity. 

Under Soderbergh’s direction, Roberts and Finney are able to create that rare male-female on screen chemistry that is non-sexual in context.  Their performances are a joy to watch, over-the-top and funny at the same time.  While both of their characters generally dislike each other, they realize over time that they are indispensable to one another. 

The film is stylishly shot with rich colors though this is upstaged by the sexy wardrobe worn by Roberts.  In almost every shot, Roberts is seen wearing a mini-skirt and a revealing blouse, exposing much of her tanned, beautiful skin in what could be the most sexy movie mom role ever conceived. 

Composer Thomas Newman’s score is one of his best, an upbeat and rhythmic accompaniment to the film’s fresh tone.  Soderbergh’s direction of the film is cautious.  Even though it is in many ways a Roberts-Finney show, Erin Brockovich never strays from the issue at hand.  It builds on the story rather than dive full-fledged into social sentimentalism and lengthy court scenes.  In a nutshell, this David versus Goliath story is refreshingly done. 

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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