Erin Brokovich

USA 2000

Reviewed by Andrew O'Hehir


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Los Angeles, the 90s. Erin Brockovich, an unemployed, ex-beauty queen with three children, is sideswiped in a car accident. Her abrasive behaviour in court sabotages her case, but she insists her lawyer Ed Masry give her a job. Erin also begins an affair with her neighbour, a biker named George who babysits her children. Erin investigates a case in the desert town of Hinkley, Ca., where Pacific Gas & Electric has contaminated the water with toxic chromium and is trying to buy the townspeople's silence by buying their homes.

By interviewing hundreds of Hinkley residents, many of whom have cancer or other diseases, and studying the local water board's records, Erin builds a class-action lawsuit against PG&E. Her children grow resentful at her frequent absences and George leaves her. When Ed brings in Kurt Potter, a high-powered lawyer, Erin feels undermined, but agrees to convince the Hinkley residents to accept binding arbitration instead of a court case that could drag on for years. The townspeople are awarded $333 million (the largest such payment in US history). Ed pays Erin $2 million, and she and George reconcile.


Much has been made of Julia Roberts' purported sexiness in Erin Brockovich and there's no doubt the star is an eyeful in her endless array of cleavage-exposing blouses and minuscule skirts (the question of where a nearly destitute woman gets all these clothes is not answered). But the real brilliance of Roberts' performance lies in the edgy, defensive quality beneath Erin's aggressive hotness. It's as if Erin accepts the world's judgement that her sex appeal is her most valuable attribute, but isn't sure it's ever brought her anything worth having. Still, the former Miss Wichita has no compunctions about employing her assets when necessary. When her lawyer-boss, the rumpled, beefy Ed asks her how she's so sure she can extract the necessary records from the water board's offices, she replies: "They're called boobs, Ed." Erin may be a hero, but she's definitely no angel. She's hot-headed, short-tempered, insecure and vain. She can be gratuitously cruel to her co-workers and has little interest in female solidarity. She addresses one overweight female employee as "Krispy Kreme" (a popular doughnut chain) and scorns the suggestion her revealing attire makes other women uncomfortable. "As long as I have one ass instead of two, I'll wear what I want," she says.

It's difficult not to sympathise with her easy-going biker boyfriend George, who feels he's bearing the brunt of all Erin's pent-up resentment against men. But Roberts is completely convincing as a woman who feels she can't afford anything like George's laissez-faire attitude toward love and life. There's a magnificent moment when Erin senses herself falling for him despite her better judgement, and her mouth twists into a grimace of temptation and regret, like someone biting into a delicacy she has sworn off.

If Roberts' delightful performance, shaded with a depth and complexity unprecedented in her career, is the centrepiece of Erin Brockovich, considerable praise is also due to Steven Soderbergh's restrained, respectful direction. Armed with a fine screenplay by Susannah Grant (based on the real PG&E/Hinkley case), Soderbergh never sentimentalises his David-and-Goliath story (in the vein of Norma Rae and Silkwood) or tricks it up with unnecessary cinematic gamesmanship. Edward Lachman's camerawork is fluid but never intrusive. He and the director are content to allow the actors and the crystalline light of California's high desert enough space to do the work.

Perhaps Soderbergh's idiosyncratic pattern of bouncing from star-driven Hollywood vehicles (Out of Sight) to zero-budget independent productions (Schizopolis) has lent him the confidence and perspective for Erin Brockovich. Many mainstream film-makers would have focused almost entirely on Erin's search for love and validation and boiled the lawsuit down to one or two scenes of heroic courtroom drama. Soderbergh's leisurely pace yields all sorts of unforced moments that heighten the film's naturalism, from Erin's first angry meeting with George tuning up his Harley-Davidson outside at night, to the scene in which she convinces cancer-stricken Donna Jensen PG&E has poisoned her water and lied to her about it. Horror spreading slowly across her face, Donna abruptly runs outside to drag her kids from the swimming pool.

There's also room in Erin Brockovich for fine acting in minor roles, including Marg Helgenberger and Cherry Jones as Hinkley women with whom Erin bonds and Tracey Walter as a slightly creepy local man who seems to be stalking her (but who, of course, holds a valuable secret). Albert Finney's Ed is another of the actor's familiar cantankerous types, mannerisms and accent apparently borrowed from W. C. Fields. Jamie Harrold offers an amusing shtick as a water-board clerk smitten by Erin; Peter Coyote is less fortunate with the generic role of a hotshot lawyer, one of the script's few weak links. Perhaps the best thing about this relaxed and supremely engaging film (for my money the best work either the director or his star has ever done) is that even its near-fairytale resolution doesn't offer a magical transformation. When we leave Erin, she is far richer and more successful than when we found her, but she's just as highly-strung and nearly as neurotic. Like the people of Hinkley, she isn't free from the consequences of American life, but she has done what she can to take control of her little piece of it.


Steven Soderbergh
Danny DeVito
Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher
Susannah Grant
Director of Photography
Ed Lachman
Anne V. Coates
Production Designer
Philip Messina
Thomas Newman
©Columbia Pictures Industries Inc/
Universal Studios
Production Companies
Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures present
a Jersey Films production
Executive Producers
John Hardy
Carla Santos Shamberg
Gail Lyon
Production Supervisor
James C. Taylor
Production Co-ordinator
Robin L. Le Chanu
Unit Production Manager
Frederic W. Brost
Location Manager
Ken Lavet
Post-production Supervisor
Caitlin Maloney
Assistant Directors
Gregory Jacobs
Dave Hallinan
Michael Risoli
Script Supervisor
Annie Welles
Margery Simkin
Carmen Cuba
L.A. MadDogs
Camera Operator
Cris Lombardi
Digital Visual Effects
Cinesite, Inc
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Tom Smith
Visual Effects Producer:
Carole Cowley
Digital Compositors:
Tom Zils
Mark Lewis
Jason Piccioni
Digital Artist:
Serena Naramore
Special Effects
Kevin Hannigan
William Harrison
Kenneth J. Van Order
Art Director
Christa Munro
Set Designers
Masako Masuda
Patricia Klawonn
Set Decorator
Kristen Toscano Messina
Costume Designer
Jeffrey Kurland
Costume Supervisor
Elena Del Rio
Key Make-up Artist
Susan Cabral-Ebert
Additional Make-up
Norman Page
Tattoo Designer
Ken Diaz
Hair Department Head
Deborah Jean Mills
Michelle Weiss
Bernard Gough
Anthony Wilson
Howard Anderson Co.
Thomas Pasatieri
Music Supervisor
Amanda Scheer-Demme
Music Editor
Bill Bernstein
Music Scoring Mixer
Dennis S. Sands
Tom Hardisty
David Marquette
Music Consultant
Buck Damon
"Redemption Day" by/performed by Sheryl Crow; "Bluegrass Hoedown" by/performed by Chris Horvath; "Honey Bunch", "Two Shots of Rye" by Paul Kerr, Andy Dewar; "Everyday Is a Winding Road" by Sheryl Crow, Brian MacLeod, Jeff Trott, performed by Sheryl Crow
Production Sound Mixer
Thomas Causey
Utility Sound
Richard Kite
Eric Flickinger
Pat Stoltz
Re-recording Mixers
Larry Blake
Michael Keller
Supervising Sound Editor
Larry Blake
Additional Sound Editors
Julie Feiner
Michael Chock
Marvin Walowitz
David A. Whittaker
Dialogue Editor
Aaron Glascock
Sound Effects Recording
Eric Potter
Alicia Irwin
Dawn Fintor
Jon Vogl
David Betancourt
Ezra Dweck
Stunt Co-ordinator
John Robotham
Julia Roberts
Erin Brockovich
Albert Finney
Ed Masry
Aaron Eckhart
Marg Helgenberger
Donna Jensen
Cherry Jones
Pamela Duncan
Veanne Cox
Theresa Dallavale
Conchata Ferrell
Tracey Walter
Charles Embry
Peter Coyote
Kurt Potter
Scotty Leavenworth
Gemmenne De La Peña
Jamie Harrold
David Brisbin
Dr Jaffe
Dawn Didawick
Valente Rodriguez
George Rocky Sullivan
Los Angeles judge
Pat Skipper
defending lawyer
Jack Gill
Irene Olga López
Mrs Morales
Emily Marks
Julie Marks
Beth, aged 8 months
Erin Brockovich-Ellis
Adilah Barnes
Irina V. Passmoore
Ron Altomare
Charles John Bukey
biker friends
Randy Lowell
Brian Frankel
Sarah Ashley
Ashley Jensen
Scarlett Pomers
Shanna Jensen
T.J. Thyne
David Foil
Joe Chrest
Tom Robinson
Meredith Zinner
Mandy Robinson
Michael Harney
Pete Jensen
William Lucking
Bob Linwood
Mimi Kennedy
Laura Ambrosino
Scott Sowers
Mike Ambrosino
Kristina Malota
Annabelle Daniels
Wade Andrew Williams
Ted Daniels
Cordelia Richards
Rita Daniels
Ashley Pimental
Brittany Pimental
Beth, aged 18 months
Larry Martinez
Nelson Perez
Judge LeRoy A. Simmons
Don Snell
Michael Shamberg
PG&E lawyers
Gina Gallego
Ms Sanchez
Ronald E. Hairston
car messenger
Scott Allen
town meeting plaintiff
Sheila Shaw
Ruth Linwood
Matthew Kimbrough
Jason Cervantes
check messenger
Columbia TriStar Films (UK)
tbc feet
tbc minutes
Digital DTS sound/
SDDS/Dolby digital
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Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011