Political Film Society - Erin Brockovich

PFS Film Review
Erin Brockovich


Erin BrockovichBefore Erin Brockovich begins, a title tells us that the film is based on a true story. The movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by transparently feminist Susannah Grant, focuses on numbers, though the tagline is "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees." After a physician runs into her car in North Hollywood, Erin (played by Julia Roberts) engages attorney Ed Masry (played by Albert Finney), but comes up with nothing because she is too foul-mouthed to be a witness on her own behalf. Next, Erin tells her next-door neighbor George (played by Aaron Eckhart), a Harley-Davidson aficionado, that she has three children (two girls and a boy), two ex-husbands, no job, and that he should not bother to think about trying to score with her despite her insistence on thrusting her boobs into his eyes (and everyone else's in the film) as often as possible, though in due course he baby-sits her children and falls in love with her. In pursuit of employment, she barges into Masry's law firm and demands a job, whereupon she is hired on a trial basis as a mere file clerk. Excluded from lunch with the female employees, who dislike her low neckline and flashy miniskirts, she uses her lunch time to peruse the files, and thus learns of a pro bono case involving Donna Jensen (played by Marg Helgenberger) in the desert town of Hinkley, California (near Barstow), who is suing Pacific Gas & Electric because of health problems presumed to be related to toxicity from the company's waste dump in town. After visiting Hinkley to interview the plaintiff, she becomes obsessed with the case against the corporate giant that has lied to the residents. We see her transformed from a seemingly scatterbrain loser (though a former Miss Wichita) to a savvy crusader determined to get justice for the townspeople, who are suffering from a variety of disorders linked to hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) pollution in the water supply, which causes immune suppression and is manifest in the form of nosebleeds, headaches, cancer, leukemia, and premature death. Soon, she is signing up 634 residents of the town in a class-action lawsuit, obtaining documents that prove the case, and an arbitration panel ultimately hands out a $333 million settlement, the largest such direct-action lawsuit in history, of which $133.2 million percent goes to Masry, who in turn awards a bonus of $2 million to Erin, who has become a paralegal. Titles at the end report that PG&E claims to have no more toxic waste dumps, but that the law firm (now Masry & Vititoe) is handling several environmental lawsuits, including one at PG&E's dump at Kettleman City. The film also points out that arbitration may be preferable to lawsuits, since big corporations can tie up cases for many years, leaving victims without compensation. One of the surprises in the film is that in the early part of the film the real Erin Brockovich-Ellis plays a waitress at a restaurant, apparently wearing a "Julia" nametag, with real Ed Masry as a patron nearby. In contrast with Erin's $2 million, Julia Roberts was paid $20 million for her role, which peppers the film with uproarious lines. With many similarities to A Civil Action, which won the Political Film Society's 1998 award for best film on human rights, Erin Brockovich has been nominated for the best film on human rights and for the best film exposť, bringing new facts to light, in the year 2000. MH

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