Argumentative August #41 – Erin Brockovich (2000) – Past, Present, Future in TV and Film
Rob and I would like to once again welcome you to another review for our Argumentative August Blogathon. This next film, Erin Brockovich is being reviewed by Steven of https://pastpresentfuturetvandfilm.wordpress.com. Let’s see what Steven thought of this movie….
The subjects that get picked for biographical films, or films that end up being based or inspired by true events is one that baffles me. How did you come up with that person? Sometimes it’s more baffling as they never seem to have been someone that’s done anything that seems worth immortalizing on film. Then, of course, there are the films that actually prove to be really worth it. They shine a light on a person or persons that made a big difference, but have since been forgotten or just not really all that known.
The Universal Pictures film “Erin Brockovich”, is still an incredibly entertaining and inspiring film that will have you excited that there’s someone like this out there in the world.
This biographical film stars Julia Roberts (upcoming “Secrets in Their Eyes”, “The Normal Heart”), Albert Finney (“Skyfall”, “The Bourne Legacy”), Aaron Eckhart (upcoming “My All American”, “I, Frankenstein”), Marg Helgenberger (“Under the Dome”, “Intelligence”), Cherry Jones (upcoming projects “I Saw the Light”, “Knight of Cups”), Veane Cox (“2 Broke Girls”, “The Better Angels”), Conchata Ferrell (upcoming “Krampus”, “Two and a Half Men”), and Tracey Walter (“Swelter”, “Savannah”).
The film was directed by Steven Soderbergh (“The Knick”, “Behind the Candelabra”) and written by Susannah Grant (upcoming projects “Confirmation”, “The 5th Wave”).
The film originally opened on March 17, 2000. The film would go on to be nominated for Five Academy Awards; winning one for Roberts as Best Actress, four Golden Globe Awards; winning one for Roberts, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards; winning two for Roberts and Finney among many other nominations and wins.
There’s no such thing as a bad topic or choice for a blogathon. I actually have no clue if that’s true, but it seems to be as I’ve yet to be disappointed by the ones chosen that have crossed my field of vision in the past few months. I haven’t partaken in all, or many for that matter, but I certainly wish I could’ve. This time around, the blogathon is focused on courtroom dramas, or as the announcement put it, “50 best courtroom dramas ever films (according to GamesRadar)”. Pretty bold and exciting choice. There was just one thing wrong that stood out to me, and it has nothing to do with the films selected. That’s another story all together.
Not only does this film have a captivating overarching mystery, it’s wrapped up in the personal life of one woman, who in the early ‘90s, wasn’t all that special. Just another person, parent actually, trying to survive and provide for her kids. Not a bad set up for a feature film it turns out.
The character, Erin Brockovich, played wonderfully by Roberts, doesn’t just allow you to care for her, but is the reason why you care at all about the people of Hinkley, CA. When the film starts, with a wonderful introduction to Roberts’ character, it seems impossible that this film is going to end up being anything exciting let alone memorable. Her character is outspoken, somewhat unapologetic, bold, caring, and so many other things that allow us all to really like her. So there’s that in the plus column. The film goes on and we see so many sides to her, but the one thing she always displays is compassion and concern for others. It’s what drives her when she begins investigating the hexavalent chromium in Hinkley, and it’s what makes her stand out as pretty amazing mom. She doesn’t hesitate to put her kids first. Throw all these things together in one lead character, and I’m hooked even more.
However, the film can’t rely completely on a well-known lead actress, nor can any film. She needs other actors to serve as lead and supporting players. Every actor she appears opposite is quite good, even if it’s for a short while.
Finney and Eckhart are the notable stand outs in the principal cast. Roberts spends a considerable amount of time with them so chemistry is absolutely important. Fortunately, this is achieved and the relationships she has with both of these men, be it loving with Eckhart or playfully antagonistic with Finney, were able to easily come through and provide so much more insight into Roberts as well as allow Finney to stand out. His character changes so much, with a few bump along the way, that you really can’t help but love him and love the back and forth between him and Roberts. Often it was quite humorous.
There were many characters that comprised the people of Hinkley, and while I can’t comment heavily on all those, seeing them portrayed completes this film. While so many had various amounts of screen time, Helgenberger is the one that does it for me. It’s been years since I’ve seen this film, and ironically, it’s been on at least twice on the network FX, at the time I started writing this. I’d in general forgotten how this film can affect you, but particularly Helgenberger’s character. She’s a wife and mother living in California and thinking all is relatively okay. Turns out it’s not, and as Roberts goes and keeps searching, constantly raising more questions, the reality hits Helgenberger and it’s just devastating. Every ounce of her character’s being is likable and that’s what makes it hard to watch as she realizes what PG&E did to her family and community. This time I couldn’t watch her scenes without wanting to shed a tear or two. It’s partly this performance that helps ground this film even more.
As I mentioned a little bit above, there’s humorous moments. It’s sometimes weird to find humor in such dramatic films, especially when it flows and works real well. There are so many that just surprised me again and again. One memorable scene, which many years from now, if it isn’t already, could be considered a classic moment or just classic line of dialogue, is when Finney asks Roberts how she intends to accomplish something. Roberts responds, “They’re called boobs, Ed.” Clever and quick line that for a moment allowed me to laugh. Then there’s the moment when Roberts is naming the phone numbers, plaintiffs, and their diseases to the other female lawyer. Whether it was meant to end up getting a laugh or not, it did. The way it was captured was perfect and kept it from being too straight forward a drama or a really heavy drama.
Adding to the effectiveness of the film overall and what made moments a bit lighter in tone, was the score by Thomas Newman (upcoming films “Bridge of Spies”, “Spectre”). At first, just hearing the little bits of piano, strings, and other instruments I can’t name as I’m not a musician, coming through, my ears perked up immediately. The sound, while different each time, but it still sounded all too familiar. The first thing I thought about was “American Beauty”, which had dramatic themes and more whimsical themes. Then, there was “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Revolutionary Road”, which followed a very similar style. All that made sense once I looked up who had scored this film. I was right! Newman was the composer. Here, as with the above listed films, Newman managed to craft a score that allowed the film to achieve a certain pace, and move you when need be. Without this, the film may have come off as sluggish. I feel that because of this score too, I was able to find more of Roberts’ character interesting and likable, as well as it helped to create the general atmosphere for any character interaction.
The film probably has 10 minutes of actual courtroom anything. 10 minutes of a two-hour film. I’m probably just nitpicking on the definition or idea of what a courtroom drama is or should be, but it still stood way, way out. When we see the inside of a courtroom for the first time, there’s 50 some odd minutes left in this film. No, I don’t consider Roberts’ courtroom opening as applying as this was necessary to introduce us to Finney and set up everything else. Even if it did, it might stretch it to 13 minutes total. By the time the film has 11 minutes left to go, we still haven’t had another courtroom sighting or a judge or anything. We get to hear about the judge’s ruling, which is something, I guess. However, knowing this, to call this film a courtroom drama or to even place it in the genre, is just weird. When you think of the other films, even the ones on the list for this blogathon, that belong in this specific genre, or fall into it a lot more, this film just looks out-of-place.
That being said, I must say this. Whether or not this film directly fits the category, it’s actually better off because of the lack of courtroom scenes. A courtroom scene or many scenes, if done well, are incredibly fun to watch. They’re tense and dramatic. But here, if they’d been featured more, I think the film would’ve suffered. What makes this film work the most is that we spend more time with Roberts and her family, her work, and the eventual plaintiffs and their families. Every aspect of this film is virtually character driven, followed by emotionally driven. There’s a kind of familiarity to the whole story, as these people portrayed did or do exist and unfortunately went through this. It’s not hard to imagine this could’ve been you or someone you know. While getting pissed off at what’s happening to these people, and watching Roberts struggle through to see this case succeed, is energy worth expanding.
When a film can move you, inspire you, enthrall you, and entertain you, it doesn’t matter where it should be from a genre classification standpoint. All you need to know is if you sit down and give this film a chance, you’ll come away a much more informed person. Informed on the particular issue that drives this film. Informed on the main character, as the real life counterpart is still very much involved in environmental work, and informed on the abilities of the actors that appear in this film. For a film that’s 15 years old, it’s subject once again virtually forgotten (except probably in some small circles), it’s amazing to see that a film can still stir something in me. It also shows why films are important beyond that of simply entertaining the masses. The general public can witness how others have made a difference, and that it is possible to make change happen for the betterment of mankind.