Saturday, 13 September 2014

Erin Brockovich (2000)




Fourteen years after its release (and twenty-one years after the events that inspired the movie) Erin Brockovich is a strange one to reflect upon. 

Back in 2000 it was huge, one of that year's must watch movies, with some considerable hype. Watching it back then, I wasn't altogether convinced the hype was justified; Erin Brockovich was essentially Silkwood, with a little of Norma Rae thrown in, the working class woman who takes a stand, changing both her life, the lives of others and - it could be argued - a part of the world for the better.  I guess it was so warmly received because such a movie hadn't been around since the late 70s.

Watching it now so far down the line the movie takes its place amongst those predecessors to the extent that it would probably serve as a good double or triple bill with such fare. But Steven Soderbergh's movie lacks bite (PG&E, the Goliath like utility company that Brockovich helped prove contaminated the drinking water in Hinkley, California and was negligent in such knowledge, is kept at arm's length and as such is never really confronted head on in any meaningful way) and seems to believe a film with something to say should be overlong and aimless, as if its importance could only truly be weighed by a 2hr 5min running time. The pacing of the piece is far too relaxed to be truly compelling or justifiably as angry as it ought to be. Soderbergh is no Ken Loach, and the US equivalent of such a pugnacious storyteller is the sort of director this kind of project deserved.



Still held in high regard as Julia Roberts finest film/performance (she won the Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild awards that year) the first hour is great; she dispenses her movie star image to play the somewhat tarty, twice divorced single mom of three and, in doing so, offers the audience something fresh and distinctive. But once Brockovich's crusade commences, much of Roberts' actual performance - all the characterisation and foibles - falls by the wayside and she becomes the 'movie star' once more,and the lack of clear character progression/development doesn't help her here either.  It's still her best role in my eyes - with the scene about an hour and 20 in where she stuns the contemptuous PG&E lawyers into silence being a highpoint - but her success with the film may have more to do with gong givers just liking an old fashioned underdog story in black and white. Albert Finney offers a fine, if somewhat workmanlike serviceable, support as Ed Masry, the lawyer Brockovich convinces to take the case.



Ultimately lacking in bite and in need of a tighter focus, Erin Brockovich is still relatively engaging enough and perhaps manages to pass the message of big business not always being good on to audiences who would not normally seek out (more politicised) films with such an agenda.

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