Erin Brockovich (2000)
Roberts' Brockovich is a Gritty Woman
Look, I don't know shit about shit but I know right from wrong! - Erin Brockovich
When ever I see that a movie is directed by Steven Soderbergh I am always unsure what I am going to get because at times Soderbergh's style can end up overwhelming a movie, distracting from the story and ending up coming across as experimental. Thankfully that is not the case when it comes to "Erin Brockovich" as whilst there are still those touches of Soderbergh's styling it never once spoils the intelligent and amusing storyline or takes away from the performances of Julia Roberts and Albert Finney.
Based upon a true story "Erin Brockovich" is for me one of the better movies to have been released in 2000 mixing a thrilling storyline about a corrupt company and water pollution with an uplifting story of a woman proving that she is not some good time girl who should be taken lightly. It is compelling stuff and you can't take your eyes off of it for a minute but at the same time it is also an amusing movie with some great dialogue and amusing interactions between characters.
As an unemployed single mother Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts - Runaway Bride) is desperate to find a job, but is having no luck which extends to when she is in a car accident and fails to win a lawsuit against the driver of the other car. Out of desperation she demands her lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney - Annie) give her a job and out of sheer persistence persuades him. With her trashy clothes and not afraid to say it as she sees it Erin struggles to fit into Masry's law office but when she gets suspicious about a real estate case she is asked to set up it seems like she maybe on to something. Discovering that Pacific Gas & Electric Company is trying to buy land in a town near one of their plants she becomes inquisitive why so many of the home owners have been sick and why the company has been paying their medical bills. What she discovers is that the Pacific Gas & Electric Company have been dumping toxic waste and covering it up and if Masry agrees to lead a prosecution case it could be the biggest in American history.
What is for certain is that "Erin Brockovich" is a movie of many layers all of them working brilliantly both individually and together. When the movie opens we meet Erin desperately trying to get a job that she is not trained to do and then following a surprising car crash she looses a compensation case. In those few scenes we not only meet both Erin and Ed Masry who is representing her but also made aware that life is not going well for Erin. But rather than just being a woman who is a single mum and down on her luck we warm to her instantly because she is feisty, tells it as it is and also cares for her children putting them first before her needs.
And this warming to Erin continues throughout the movie because we end up championing her, wanting to prove all of those who look down on her as a trampy dresser and just a single mother, wrong. In many ways it's an uplifting story because watching Erin forcefully go about making her life better and the lives of those who are affected by the cover up makes you feel like you can go out and rise above your problems.
But then whilst an uplifting story it is also a thriller and we watch as having forced herself into a job with Ed goes about discovering the truth over a dodgy real estate deal. You sort of know that she will be successful but the way she goes about it and the obstacles she overcomes along the way, including threats as well as people looking down their noses at her makes it compelling. But it is also the other side of this thrilling story which makes "Erin Brockovich" a well rounded movie because watch how her determination to fight for those affected by the water pollution puts a strain on her family life especially her relationship with her neighbour George. And because we have warmed to Erin thanks to her fighting nature we feel for her when her home life starts going wrong. In one of the most poignant scenes in the movie when Erin phones home to speak to George and discovers her baby has said her first words you can't help but feel for Erin not being there to hear such an important moment but at the same time we take joy in hearing how much it meant to George to be there.
But what is really good about "Erin Brockovich" is that whilst you have this thriller about a corrupt company being prosecuted for water pollution and the uplifting story of a single mum proving that she is more than how she looks it is also a surprisingly funny movie. It's not a comedy but watching Erin give as good as she gets when someone looks down their nose at her is just amusing as is her flouting of her sexuality to get what she wants from simple minded men. But it is the way she strikes fear into Ed and the way he reacts to her which delivers so many of the laughs and whilst some of the scenes feel manufactured the naturalness of the banter between Julia Roberts as Erin and Albert Finney as Ed is just wonderful. It makes "Erin Brockovich" a compelling movie which thrills, uplifts and makes you laugh all of which has a touch of the Steven Soderbergh style to make it memorable.
A big reason why "Erin Brockovich" is such a good movie comes down to two performances those of Albert Finney and Julia Roberts. Finney as Ed Masry steals many a scene he is in because he is so funny, not in an over the top way but in they way he is almost scared of Erin. You can't help but laugh when Ed skirts around an issue only for Erin to put him in his place in a very direct manner and it is Finney who makes these moments amusing. Yet at the same time Finney delivers this fatherly warmth, that he does like Erin despite her abrupt and occasionally volatile nature and it is their friendship which adds so much charm to the movie.
But it is really Julia Roberts as Erin which brings the movie together creating this character which we fall in love with. We are amused by her forthright nature and champion her for her fighting spirit especially when she gets one over on anyone who looks down their nose at her. But at the same time we feel for her because of the tough decisions she has to make over fighting for those who can't fight for themselves and missing out on her family life in doing so. Yes at times it's almost a bit of a caricature which Julia Roberts delivers with her over the top dress sense but it works on every single level.
What this all boils down to is that "Erin Brockovich" is a surprisingly good movie which is smart, amusing, thrilling and stylish with everything working together to make a memorable movie. It is because it is so well rounded with so many layers that it never grows boring despite being 130 minutes and by the time it is finished you've not only been entertained via a thrilling storyline, you've also been amused by the humour and uplifted by Erin proving that she is more than she seems.
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