The other day, I was flipping through the television channels when I noticed that Erin Brockovich was on. I stopped searching for something to watch, settling on watching Erin Brockovich for what must be the fiftieth time. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see this film when it originally aired in March of the year 2000. Instead, I plucked it off of a video rental shelf about a year later. I’d heard some good things about the movie. It looked interesting, but I had no idea how much I would love this movie.
The movie is based upon a true story about an unemployed single mother who finds work as a legal assistant. Her job is somewhat of a charity case, having been offered to her by an attorney who failed her, losing a personal injury lawsuit she had been counting on winning. Thus, when Ed Masry (Albert Finney) first offers Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) the job, he isn’t expecting much. After all, the smart-talking, foul-mouthed single mother of three hadn’t really displayed any particular skills on their prior meetings.
Much to the chagrin of some of the employees at the firm, Erin is determined to keep this job. Her determination and attention to detail lead her to a pro bono case against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, otherwise known as PG&E. Extremely interested in the particulars of the case, Erin discovers that PG&E has covered up the fact that the company had poisoned the water supply of the town of Hinkley. The company made every attempt to buy off land from the residents of Hinkley, only disclosing that a substance had been accidentally leaked into the water supply. However, as Erin soon discovers, PG&E never disclosed the fact that the particular agent that entered the water supply would be deadly to the residents over a period of time, causing various sorts of cancers and other chronic, life-threatening illnesses.
Adamant that this company be brought to justice, Erin Brockovich stirs her boss into action and the rest is history. Her constant involvement in the case, attention to detail, honesty and devotion helped the residents of Hinkley earn a $333 million dollar settlement. The amount paid out by PG&E was unheard of at the time and Brockovich became something of a local hero, earning her a permanent position with Ed Masry. She continued in her tireless crusade, working on countless anti-pollution lawsuits.
What I love about Erin Brockovich is that we get to see the good and the bad about the main character. Hollywood has a habit of putting heroes on a pedestal, but the creators of this movie chose to portray Erin in a more realistic light. Thus, we get to see a version of Erin Brockovich that is closer to the truth, faults and all. And yet, this is an incredibly uplifting film as, despite all of her faults and her lack of legal training, Erin rises above and wins against a powerful company. The fact that this David versus Goliath film is actually a true story is a plus.
When we first meet Erin in the film, she is obviously falling apart, a former beauty queen struggling to survive as a single mom. She lacks style and grace, wearing clothing that is inappropriate and cursing like a truck driver. Her love life is a complete mess. Yet, this very same woman becomes a powerful dynamo; an activist sought out by many an anti-pollution group for her skill as a legal assistant as well as her ability to speak to people. The story of Erin Brockovich is empowering. Everyone I’ve ever watched the movie with has the same reaction – Wow! It just gives you an idea of what some hard work and devotion can get you. It also reminds you of that old adage about judging a book by its cover.
Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. I feel that this is one of the finest dramatic roles in Roberts’ career. Her portrayal of Erin Brockovich was so believable that one has trouble forgetting that this is a role she is playing and that there actually is a real Erin Brockovich out there. Albert Finney is adorable as the fumbling, soft-hearted attorney who is drawn into this case and becomes somewhat of a hero himself. Other noteworthy performances include Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jenson, one of the Hinkley residents involved in the lawsuit; Scott Leavenworth who portrays Erin’s son; and Aaron Eckhart as George, Erin’s boyfriend at the time. However, I do the cast an injustice by only mentioning these few actors – the entire cast did an amazing job. Even the real Erin Brockovich made a cameo appearance as a waitress.
Cinematography in this film was wonderful. It’s hard to explain just how effective the lighting was in certain scenes, accenting the harshness of the PG&E Company and its operations plant. Especially ill residents of Hinkley were filmed in lighting that would accentuate the pallor created by make-up. Erin’s hectic schedule was reflected in quick camera pans.
The music was extremely effective throughout every scene of the movie, but one song in particular stood out against the rest. It was a song I have long toted as one of Sheryl Crow’s best – Redemption Day. The lyrics of this song, which plays in the background as Erin conducts her investigation, seem as though they were tailor made for the subject matter: “I’ve wept for those who suffer long / But how I weep for those who’ve gone / Into rooms of grief and questioned wrong / But keep on killing / It’s in the soul to feel such things / But weak to watch without speaking / Oh what mercy sadness brings /
If God be willing.”
I would love to discuss the many different scenes I enjoyed scattered throughout the movie, but I’ll settle for one. It involves a discussion between the PE&G lawyers and Ed Masry and Erin Brockovich (plus two members of the office crew that Masry presented as attorneys of the firm). Toward the end of the discussion with the smug PG&E attorneys, one reaches for a glass of water. Erin calmly tells the woman that the water was brought in especially for their visit. She states that the water is from the Hinkley Plant. The woman quickly puts the glass down, a look of worry clouding her features.
Now, I can go on and on about what a great movie Erin Brockovich is, but wouldn’t you like to see it for yourself?