When Julia Roberts was at the peak of her career and commanded more box office than most male actors in Hollywood there was a certain expectation that went along with her films. Most were highly successful and there was little complaint from anyone despite the monotony. Erin Brockovich was released just about in the middle of this period sandwiched between crowd favourites such as Notting Hill and Ocean’s Eleven however it is quite different from her usual fare and all the better for it.
Closely based on real events, the story of Erin Brockovich revolves around one woman’s crusade to bring big business to justice for polluting the ground water in the small town of Hinkley, California causing terrible health problems for the local residents. Following a car crash, the titular Erin Brockovich hires a lawyer (Albert Finney) to sue the doctor involved in the accident and despite having a strong case loses in court due to her abrasive attitude. Incensed by what she sees as her lawyer’s failure she demands that he compensate her by giving her a job as a clerk at his legal firm to which he reluctantly agrees despite her having no legal training.
Whilst reviewing a real estate case file involving Pacific Gas & Electric offering to buy the house of a local Hinkley resident she notices medical records and visits the family to enquire. After learning that PG&E have been funding medical treatment for the illness stricken family she also learns that PG&E have been polluting the local area with hexavalent chromium, a waste product and highly carcinogenic compound released into the ground water by the company.
As evidence mounts and an insider provides documentation proving that PG&E had known about the risks for many years and intentionally covered them up Brockovich persuades her boss to take the case on as a class action lawsuit involving as many plaintiffs as she can persuade to join her.
Were it not for this being based on real events it would seem like a fairly absurd ‘little guy vs big business’ story that could not possibly be true but the fact that it is all entirely accurate makes it infinitely more enjoyable. Albert Finney is excellent as the long suffering boss but it is Roberts’ Oscar-winning central performance that makes this such a compelling watch.
Making it impossible not to be swept along by the story, Erin Brockovich is a powerhouse of a film by Steven Soderbergh that relies on good storytelling to be great – an increasingly rare feat in the modern world of CGI and endless sequels. Arguably the pinnacle of Roberts’ career so far this is one not to miss.