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Erin Brockovich (2000)

She had no legal education. She’s spent the last six years raising children. Nobody wanted to take her seriously. And she was about to bring a major corporation to its knees.

Erin Brockovich is a biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh about the Hinkley groundwater contamination lawsuit spearheaded by Ms. Brockovich against Pacific Gas & Electric. It stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, and Aaron Eckhart.

Erin Brockovich had always had to fight for what she believed in. After two divorces left her raising three kids, she needed a job and decent childcare – all simple things. When another driver runs a red light and plows into her car, she hopes that she might finally get a break, but when she loses her personal injury lawsuit against the doctor driving the other car, she asks her attorney, Ed Masry, to give her a job as compensation for what he had said was a slam dunk case. He gives her work as a file clerk, but when she investigates the inclusion of medical records in a pro bono real estate case involving PG&E, her instincts start telling her that things simply do not add up. When she digs further, she discovers a systematic cover-up of the use of toxic hexavalent chromium, which has leached into the groundwater in Hinckley and has been poisoning the residents for decades, causing numerous health problems. Well, Erin is not going to let this stand just because PG&E has billions at their disposal, and one major corporation is about to learn what happens when you get on the bad side of a tenacious spitfire.

Erin Brockovich’s story is an inspirational one. With no formal legal education, three kids, and the persistence of a pitbull, this woman posed an unexpected threat to the comfortable apathy demonstrated by a huge power company. Everyone knows what it’s like to butt heads with a huge, faceless corporation who would rather stonewall you into going away than address your concerns, whether those concerns be a billing problem or something more serious. Thoughout this film I found myself rooting for her as fate conspired to push her down, and she just got right back up and pushed back harder. There was no stopping her, even when nobody else believed in her. The best part is that, with a few artistic variations, her story is absolutely true. Not only did she kick PG&E in the nuts to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, but she has gone on to helm Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm.

Julia Roberts fares well as Brockovich here, not letting people push her around just because they had all the money. Amusingly, they actually toned down her mode of dress for the movie, making me wonder what the real Erin wore that was more provocative than the see-through blouse and black bra she wears to the office in one scene. While it stretched credulity that a woman with three young children would have a figure like that, some women are just blessed. Albert Finney holds his own as her slightly put-upon boss Ed Masry, trying to explain the way things are and being bewildered at first by her refusal to just accept them. Eventually the two of them meet in the middle as he starts to see the merit in her case and she starts to learn how to use the system to the benefit of the people of Hinckley. Aaron Eckhart adds an unexpected bit of flavor as Brockovich’s next door neighbor/love interest George, only a couple years before he would become a major actor in films like Paycheck and The Core, and overall the entire cast just works well together.

If you want to watch an inspirational underdog story, a true-life legal drama, or just a movie what prominently features Julia Roberts’ cleavage, try Erin Brockovich. You will be cheering her on every step of the way.

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