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Friday, 2 December 2016

Retro Review: Erin Brockovich (2000)

Erin Brockovich
Cast: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Peter Coyote
Genre: Biographical 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $250 million 

Plot: Erin Brockovich is a woman in a tight spot. Following a car accident in which she was not at fault, Erin pleads with her attorney Ed Masry to hire her at his law firm. Erin stumbles upon some medical records placed in real estate files. She convinces Ed to allow her to investigate when she discovers a cover-up involving contaminated water in a local community which is causing devastating illnesses among its residents 

'If You Have To Watch & Own Just One Julia Roberts Movie, Make It This One'

Julia Roberts has appeared and starred in so many movies and roles that fans have clamoured for - from her rom-com offerings in Pretty Woman, My Best Friends Wedding to some of my personal favourites in Hook as Tinkerbell, The Pelican Brief, the latter Steel MagnoliasMona Lisa Smile and this 2000 effort, Erin Brockovich.

As I have stated many times over, though I'm not a big admirer of most of her movies, I won't knock her for being extremely talented as an actress and that when given a good script, role and movie, Julia Roberts is so versatile. And here as the self-titled character, not only does she look stunning throughout, this is backed up by the depth and range of her performance which she exhibits. It is extraordinary. She approaches her role with compassion, confidence and a deeper understanding of the situation and plot of the film at hand & manages to assimilate into the role with ease. 

The complaints about Julia's appearance and of her dressing 'provocatively' throughout this film kind of pale in contrast to the real Erin Brockovich, whose style would have been far more distracting. Julia exudes her charm and along with it, a very believable, natural and honest - if slightly feisty demeanour, which she doesn't let up. Not since say Steel Magnolias and perhaps The Pelican Brief has Julia Roberts given a type of onscreen film performance that allows her to display her talents as a dramatic actress in full that is and was believable, undeniable and incredible. Never mind being her claim to fame - she did that with Steel Magnolias as young Shelby; and as Erin, this was the role of a lifetime for her - and one where she fully took advantage of and ran away with it. She was totally deserving of her Academy Award. It is a tad of a shame that Julia hasn't really had more of the meatier and diverse roles as I'd have liked to have seen. 

Based on a true story, Erin Brockovich is a down-on-your-luck, ex-beauty queen and a mother of three young children; despite her lack of qualifications, she is very determined, outspoken and persistent, as she goes out of her way to support her family. After forcing her way into a law firm and pleading for work and with 3 kids to feed, she later investigates the contamination of polluted water, where the locals have become sick and suffered in pain & disease as a result. Later on, she gets into a relationship with a guy, played by Aaron Eckhart, who wants Erin to quit her job so she can spend more time with her family. But she doesn't bend over backwards, and despite this setback, Erin presses on with the task. 

Steven Soderbergh's direction prevents this film from deteriorating into a tedious and typically cliche drama, as well as turning it into a vehicle for Julia Roberts's character to go down the painfully sappy love route. Which thankfully, it didn't do. Instead, it carves out an intriguing character-driven story that emphasises the believability of the performances & in going along with that story. It is said that many reviewers will compare Julia Roberts's performance here to her popular rom-com stuff, such as Pretty Woman; however, in stating that her role and this movie is miles apart and better than that offering, would be merely glossing over and taking away from its uniqueness and distinctive traits that it has, as well as doing a disservice to her illustrious career (though I'm not into most of her movies, besides the ones I've mentioned earlier here). By picturing Roberts in this role, I just couldn't envision any of her other rom-com contemporary actresses, who could pull it off as well as she did as Erin. By having either Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Aniston in the role, this movie would have a diverse effect. 

The performances overall are out of this world: everyone delivers and steps up to the plate. Albert Finney as her boss attorney exerted the right degree of wit, frustration, anger and concern, whereas Aaron Eckhart is great as the biker guy, George who despite his rugged appearance, is down-to-earth, kind and understanding. 

In describing this movie, Erin Brockovich operates almost on the lines of a legal drama and how the law works, without the necessities of having it set in a courtroom, which is invigorating to see. & yet had I not known about the background to this film and that it was based on a true story, then I would have probably dismissed it altogether. 

Regarding the profanity, I wasn't bothered by it as it expresses Erin's cagey and strong personality. Seeing Julia Roberts ranting and raving, dropping F-bombs as her namesake character didn't shock me as much; rather it was part of the script and of whom, in Erin, she is a much more developed character than her usual typecast love interest roles. She doesn't hold back, she isn't afraid of speaking what's on her mind & makes it clear her feelings and intentions when she feels unhappy, dissatisfied or has a grievance about something.

The movie that all but elevated Julia Roberts's status as an actress to an all-time high at a time that wasn't seen before in many of her other previous offerings, & it is her unexpected and cagey turn in Erin Brockovich, which far exceeded my expectations and beyond. 

I've seen and watched films and performances given by many Oscar winners, but so few of them impress me. Yet in Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, it's definitely one Academy award-winning performance that I unanimously agree with by the judges. As an actress, she really came to fruition here and it is the manner and degree of her portrayal, not to mention Roberts's own charm that ultimately makes Erin Brockovich entertaining at times and profound in places. 


Pros + 

- Great performances all-round

- A spellbinding performance by Julia Roberts 

- Emotional, hard-hitting in places 

- Excellent direction by Steven Soderbergh 

- A legal drama with a difference that isn't set in the courtroom


- Film can drag in places

Final Verdict:

One wouldn't necessarily, or be it, usually, associate Julia Roberts with a role like this; movies where she doesn't play the love interest or in a typical rom-com and where she plays slightly intriguing characters is where she really excels and succeeds as an actress. Here, she displays so many different layers in her performance, which without a question blows away her efforts in Pretty Woman out of the water, completely in this David vs Goliath showdown between a multi-million corporation and the scrappy - yet persistent little lady, who will stop at nothing in her search for justice. The remaining cast performances are brilliant as well. Forget Pretty Woman - this is the real deal insofar as the ultimate and all-round Julia Roberts movie, or be it performance goes.

Erin Brockovich is, quite simply put, Julia Roberts most pinnacle movie offering: It's smart, well-written, at times emotional and hard-hitting, with an equally challenging, believable and spellbinding character performance by her that practically outstrips all of her efforts. 

It will surely hold your attention, and alongside The Pelican Brief of 1993, both are excellent legal-based movies that truly bring the best out of Julia Roberts, as an actress. This film is Julia at her prime and utmost best, as well as the only Steven Soderbergh, directed effort of his that I liked, as I cannot say the same for the rest of his movies. 

Even if you're not a fan of her work and yet still feel compelled to watch one movie of hers, then Erin Brockovich has to be that movie. 


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