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"Erin Brockovich"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Written by Susannah Grant. 
Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  3/22/00 

Folks--

Just so you know--and, are not terribly heart-broken over the fact (hehehe)--I will be taking the month of April off, because I will be mentally preparing for my third-annual SMR season, when I have been known to see three, even four movies every week.  After the Oscars, I normally take some time off, and wait for the big blockbusters to come out.  Last year, I was burned because "The Matrix" came out during the first week of April, but I don't think that will happen again this year!  The real reason for all of this is that I will be on vacation for half of the month--Prague for a week, then Seattle at the end of the month.

Absolutely, positively, no lie:  although I see at least one movie a week, every week of the month, every month of the year, I NEVER saw a trailer for "Erin Brockovich."  And I never saw a commercial for this movie before I saw it.  (Remember, I don't watch TV besides "The Simpsons", and I don't read previews or insider notes about movies before I see them.)  With that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that this movie made $28 million over the past weekend, about three times more than "Final Destination."

So, thinking to myself that I must pretty much blow for not knowing anything about this movie, I decided to check it out tonight after Claudia "Boxers" Hanna and I did Mexican at a nearby restaurant.  And, my last Julia Roberts experience was a good one:  "Notting Hill," last year's romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant.  This movie was just as good, albeit for different reasons, and really did a great job of showing Roberts' dramatic range as a divorced mother of three that fights the establishment over water pollution issues.  Based on a true story, Erin Brockovich (Roberts) is out of work and desperately trying to find some before she and her burgeoning family go broke.  So, when she is apparently the victim in a traffic accident, she is hopeful that her lawyer in the ensuing case (played by Albert Finney, who has been tough to find lately in film work) can win her big cash so that she will be able to pay the bills.  Naturally, she loses, and after trying to find a job through the local newspaper, she shows up at her former lawyer's doorstep to become a legal assistant--against his will!

What follows is the basis of the pollution plot, and I won't go into all of that here.  Basically, Erin goes to the town where the supposed pollution takes place, and while this is nothing new to movies of this type (John Travolta just did this movie two years ago, and then it was called "A Civil Action", and how about Matt Damon in "The Rainmaker"?), Steven Soderbergh ("sex, lies, and videotape") does a great job of keeping things interesting in introducing a laundry list of town residents that are suffering odd side effects to drinking the water in the town.  Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Erin's new next-door neighbor George (played with bear-fur sensitivity by Aaron Eckhart--this movie should have been rated FK for furry kissing) has become a quick best friend...and nanny...and lover, eventually.  In fact, George is almost totally forced upon us because of the sheer desire by the filmmakers to have a worthy subplot to Erin's new legal career.

Hmm.  The film is quite good--Roberts is great as the shit-talking (I can NOT come close to emphasizing how much Roberts gets to cuss in this part) mom, and when the case gets personal, you can really tell that it is getting personal to her character.  Her best highlight, I thought, is when she gets to hear George tell her about her youngest child's first words...very, very, very good scene.  And, while I thought she was just okay in the taddies department (see "Bellview--Mardi Gras 2000" for taddy description), if you don't see Roberts' cleavage in your sleep after seeing this film, you probably were sleeping during the movie.  I couldn't even guess at how many outfits she went through, but it must have been at least 40, and all showed a mighty amount of breast pretty gratuitously.  It is a wonder, then, why more of the film's inhabitants don't marvel at the spectacle that Soderbergh's direction makes the movie audience so aware of.  Only a couple of characters really seem to take notice of the fact that Brockovich strolls into a courtroom wearing, well, close to nothing up top.  Oh well.

And, the story is involving--both in terms of the main pollution story, and also the neglected family bit that fills in the gaps.  The supporting performances are very good--Finney, good to have you back!--and thankfully, there is no long courtroom scene on-screen at the end of the movie.  Good laughs are sprinkled throughout ("Bite my ass, Krispy Kreme!" almost had me falling out of my chair in laughter), and not surprisingly, this has a feel-good vibe that prevails over its final half-hour.

But, that is one of the problems:  the film is simply too long.  There was a point where, as Brockovich is collecting signatures for a legal document late in the film--for some of the more than 600 plaintiffs named in the trial--that I thought to myself (as did Claudia), "please end this movie!"  You know how it will end when you are watching it, so I kind of wished that they would have skipped some of the formalities.  Another problem, and this is typical with movies involving a lead character like Brockovich, is the hero complex that Roberts' character adapts whenever she is confronted with a problem.  Maybe Brockovich really did totally dictate the meeting that she and her law firm had with the opposing company accused of polluting the water in question--dominating the 10-minute meeting by being the only one to say anything, and looking like a total bad-ass doing it.  But, I don't buy it.  Part of me thinks this is  Brockovich--the real-life one--blowing some smoke up her own ass to make herself look good.

Claudia had higher expectations for this film, so her rating is much closer to a Matinee.  But, I think that overall, this movie has got the goods.  Expect to come out a little potty-mouthed afterwards, but otherwise, a generally happy person!

Rating:  $8.25 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09