ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000)
When a single mother gets a job as a file clerk in a law firm, she uncovers a case that will make her a household name.
Back in 1993, a feisty young woman called Erin Brockovich was trying to make some money to repay her lawyer after losing a personal injury lawsuit. She had three kids, a big debt and not many credentials other than having once been a beauty queen. So she pressured her lawyer into taking her on and before too long, gave him the sort of career break he could never have dreamed of – conducting the largest settlement in a direct action lawsuit in US history. It was a real life David and Goliath story tailor made for the big screen and director Steven Soderbergh served it up with an Oscar winning performance from his leading lady Julia Roberts.
Intrigued by some notes she finds in a file, Brockovich heads off to investigate a pro bono case involving a family in a little town called Hinkley on the edge of California’s Mojave Desert. The Jensens have been plagued by health problems and their neighbours, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, want to buy them out but they’re reluctant to leave. This is their family home after all.
Using her secret weapon – namely her boobs and her hot trashy outfits – she accesses crucial information about the case, like records at the water board incriminating the 28 billion dollar corporation for contaminating the local water resource. She even collects her own water samples to help save costs and despite initial misgivings her boss Ed Masry, played by Albert Finney, soon finds her services invaluable, especially when dealing with ordinary folk.
As the plaintiffs start piling up, Erin finds her life taking an upward turn. And when she falls into a relationship with her new bikie neighbour (a hairy Aaron Eckhart), even her kids seem happier. But the road to glory is not without its pitfalls and Erin negotiates them with an innate sense of streetwise justice and chutzpah.
Soderbergh scored the jackpot by casting Roberts in the leading role. As a star vehicle, the film drove her straight through the $20 million dollar per picture barrier that had until then separated male actors from their female counterparts. But it’s a very different movie from Traffic which Soderbergh also released that same year. It’s much more conventional and linear making it a lot more accessible. And that’s important because we need these kind of narratives to help empower us in the face of all those huge companies who continue to put profits before people.
Brockovich was instrumental in forcing Pacific Gas and Electric to clean up their act. And she still works as an environmental crusader, acting as the figurehead for Shine Lawyers here in Australia. While she’s not a lawyer herself and didn’t achieve her victory all on her own, her sassy take-no-prisoners attitude was instrumental in gathering all the incriminating evidence required to nail the culprits.
It’s an inspiring tale and one that proves that sometimes the little people do win. As anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said; “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.
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