Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Erin Brockovich

Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Susannah Grant, Erin Brockovich is the story of an unemployed single mother who works for a lawyer as she helps fight against a gas company for people who had been hurt by them. Based on the real life about the woman of the same name, it’s an unconventional bio-pic that has a woman trying to help people by using her sex appeal and street smarts as she’s played by Julia Roberts. Also starring Aaron Eckhart, Albert Finney, Marg Helgenberger, Tracey Walters, and Peter Coyote. Erin Brockovich is a sassy and phenomenal film from Steven Soderbergh.

The film is about this unemployed woman who has three children from two ex-husbands as she gets a job working for the lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney) who was handling her injuries claim case which they lost. In her job, Erin Brockovich learns about a real-estate files case that Masry had been working on as she makes some chilling discoveries about the Pacific Gas and Electric Company whose water was contaminated and many of the people in the small town of Hinkley, California were struck with a myriad of illnesses. In turn, it’s a film where this very unlikely woman and a small-time lawyer with a private firm go against a massive billion dollar corporation to help a bunch of people in a small town who had been conned by this corporation. What makes the film much more unique than it actually is its protagonist as she is this single mother of three kids who wears skimpy clothes and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Susannah Grant’s screenplay is unconventional at times but also very engaging for the way it presents Brockovich as this no-nonsense woman who is just trying to get work to raise her three kids as she has very little money in her bank account and little experience with anything. While she dresses in skimpy clothes that often shows her cleavage and has this sassy attitude, she is perceived as this unintelligent and trashy woman who gets by with having sex with men and such. Instead, Brockovich uses her sex appeal to dig deep into her discoveries where she impresses Masry. While the job gives her some respect from Masry, co-workers, and the people she talks to about what they’re dealing. She tries to balance that with being a mom as she gains the help and companionship of her new neighbor in a biker named George (Aaron Eckhart) who would struggle with her long working hours as does her kids yet they come around to see what she’s doing as she sometimes takes them for the ride.

Brockovich’s relationship with Masry is also unique as they become this unlikely duo where Brockovich is the one talking to the people and gathering all sorts of information as she was willing to get her hands dirty. Especially as she would get Masry to be more accessible to the people where he does have a scene at a community center talking to them about what is going to happen with this lawsuit the town has filed. It’s a moment where Brockovich watches in the back as she lets Masry let his guard down a bit so he can become someone the people can trust despite some of legal bullshit he has to handle. Even as Brockovich and Masry also have to rely on a more prestigious legal firm to help in the case where the two don’t get treated with much respect by their new partners.

Steven Soderbergh’s direction is pretty simple in some respects as he doesn’t go for anything flashy in some of the compositions he creates. Still, there are moments that has him creating a film that is a mixture of a comedy and drama while finding a balance to mesh the two genres. Even as he plays to the comedy in an offbeat way where he’s not afraid to use sexuality to drive the story though there’s no nudity that occurs in the film. It’s not overt but enough to bring some energy to the film while Soderbergh also creates moments such as how Brockovich is able to engage the people with just her charm as she’s just wearing regular clothes while a law assistant is struggling to connect with them as she’s just talking about all sorts of legal bullshit the people don’t really understand.

Much of the film is shot in Ventura, California with some of it shot in Los Angeles where Soderbergh uses the deserts and small-town locations to create something that makes it more than just a film in California. He gives the idea that something like this could be set in any small American town as the people themselves are just good folk who want to hear the truth and why they’ve been sick. His use of medium shots, close-ups, and wide shots give Soderbergh an atmosphere to help tell the story and engage the audience into these characters in the film. Especially as he would maintain that sense of drama and the stakes that is happening so that audiences can root for Brockovich and Masry to see if they can beat the Goliath that is the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Overall, Soderbergh creates a very rich and entertaining film about a woman who helps the people fight against a corporation.

Cinematographer Edward Lachman does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography by playing up the sunny look of California with its rich interior lighting schemes in the daytime while going for more stylish lights for the scenes at night. Editor Anne V. Coates does excellent work with the editing as she infuses some style such as jump-cuts to play with some of the film‘s humor and drama that adds to the unconventional tone of the film. Production designer Philip Messina, with set decorator Kristen Toscano Messina and art director Christa Munro, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of Masry‘s office firm as well as Brockovich‘s home to play into their two different personalities.

Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland does nice work with the costumes from the skimpy clothing that Brockovich wears to the biker look of George. Sound editor Larry Blake does terrific work with the sound to play into some of the film‘s sound effects as well as the calmness of some of the locations in Ventura, California. The film’s music by Thomas Newman is fantastic for its score that is largely driven by keyboards and orchestral pieces that is upbeat at times but also eerie and somber while music supervisor Amanda Scheer-Demme brings in a soundtrack that features some low-key ambient music, bluegrass, and a couple of songs by Sheryl Crow.

The casting by Margery Simkin is incredible for the ensemble that is created for the film as it features cameos from the real Erin Brockovich as a waitress and Ed Masry as a diner patron along with small roles from Scotty Leavenworth and Gemmenne de la Pena as two of Brockovich’s older children, Emily and Julie Marks and Ashley and Brittany Pimental as the youngest of Brockovich’s children as it’s a baby in two different ages. Other small yet notable performances include Gina Gallego as a PG&E attorney, Veanne Cox as a paralegal who tries to do Brockovich’s job, T.J. Thyne as a waters department employee who is charmed by Brockovich, Conchata Ferrell as Masry’s secretary Brenda, and Peter Coyote as a top attorney who teams with Masry on the case yet has no clue in how Masry and Brockovich do their work.

Tracey Walter is terrific as a mysterious Hinkley local who attends the town meetings as he is suspicious of what Brockovich is doing while Cherry Jones is wonderful as another local who is wary about what Brockovich is doing as she thinks that no money will come from this case. Marg Helgenberger is superb as a Hinkley local who becomes the first person Brockovich talks to as she deals with her declining health and what her family might deal with. Aaron Eckhart is excellent as Brockovich’s neighbor George as this very nice biker who helps out by taking care of Brockovich’s children while dealing with her workload as he understands what she’s trying to do.

Albert Finney is brilliant as Ed Masry as this old-school and well-meaning attorney who reluctantly hires Brockovich to be in his firm while becoming aware of what he might go up against realizing the risks of what he might lose. It’s a performance where Finney plays the straight man for Roberts as well as bringing a complexity and accessibility into his role as a lawyer who often doesn’t connect with his clients on a personal level. Finally, there’s Julia Roberts in an outstanding performance as the titular character where it’s Roberts at her most brash and charming where she isn’t afraid to get a little dirty and be overtly sexual at times. It’s a performance that really has Roberts going all-out while also proving to be pretty sensitive where she has her characters listen to other people as it’s definitely Roberts at her best.

Erin Brockovich is a remarkable film from Steven Soderbergh that features a fantastic performance from Julia Roberts in the titular role. Along with some amazing supporting work from Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart, the film is definitely one of Soderbergh’s finest films as well as one of his most accessible. Even as he creates a character as captivating as Brockovich that allows the audience to be engaged by her. In the end, Erin Brockovich is a spectacular film from Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh Films: sex, lies, & videotape - Kafka - King of the Hill - The Underneath - Gray's Anatomy - Schizopolis - Out of Sight - The Limey - Traffic - Ocean's Eleven (2001 film) - Full Frontal - Solaris (2002 film) - Eros-The Equlibrium - Ocean's Twelve - Bubble - The Good German - Ocean’s Thirteen - Che - The Girlfriend Experience - The Informant! - And Everything is Going Fine - Contagion - Haywire - Magic Mike - Side Effects - Behind the Candelabra - Logan Lucky - (Unsane) - (High Flying Bird)

The Auteurs #39: Steven Soderbergh: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

This is my clear favorite Soderbergh of 2000. I know that many prefer Traffic, but that film was too precise for me. This one has such a nice breezy flow to it that it manages to hit harder without trying so hard.

Finney is also remarkable and should have won the Oscar.

ruth said...

I haven't seen this one yet, I even forgot it's one of Soderbergh’s. I might give it a shot at some point just to see Julia's performance. I also like Albert FInney quite a bit.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-I think some people would prefer this film than Traffic because it's more accessible which is fine with me as both films are great. I think Finney deserved some accolades but I think del Toro's win was deserving.

@ruth-Julia's performance is a main reason to see this as it's one of her best. Especially her scenes with Albert Finney.

Andrew K. said...

I'm glad Fisti brought up TRAFFIC. To an extent I think TRAFFIC has the sheen of "good and important" movie more than the very specific thrills of ERIN BROCKOVICH. That ensemble cross-cutting nature of TRAFFIC has ruled the century in film-making and it is more ostensibly created but over time I've firmly placed myself in the ERIN BROCKOVICH. What an excellent use of a star performance to improve and not take away from a film's heft and it never feels preachy despite dealing with so many "one person against society biopic" tricks.

(It's so odd how Julia's performance here has endured as something insignificant. She's excellent here! Also, her line-reading of "Shut up, bitch! I'm not talking to you." is nice to play in your head on a loop when someone of either sex is annoying you.)

thevoid99 said...

@Andrew K.-That is one of the film's strengths where it could've been a very preachy film but Soderbergh and Susannah Grant didn't do that which made it so much better.

People do rag on Julia Roberts because she's a movie star. Yet, this performance to me backs up all of the reasons into why she's a great actress. I love that line she gives. After all, I'd rather see Julia Roberts read a phone book with kind of persona than go see the next bullshit rom-com starring Katherine Heigl.

Alex Withrow said...

When I was younger, this flick never really did it for me. I think I was craving the obscureness of The Limey and the harshness of Traffic, which prohibited me from appreciating Erin Brokovich. But now, I agree with you, it fits so well into Soderbergh’s filmography. Accessible? Sure. But no less great.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-It does have elements that I think are accessible enough for a mainstream audience but it does have these moments that make it so much more which is why I enjoyed it so much and it's now in my top 10 films by Steven Soderbergh so far as I have six more films of his to watch for the rest of the year.

Unknown said...

This is a good one and finally showed that Julia Roberts could deliver the goods if given the right material. I like the give and take between her and Aaron Eckhart. They really played well off each other in a realistic way that is atypical of a big Hollywood movie. In fact, many of the choices Soderbergh makes in this film are atypical of the usual cookie-cutter mentality. He refuses to get to sappy or sentimental and isn't afraid to show Erin failing and doesn't get too self-congratulatory when she succeeds.

thevoid99 said...

@J.D. Lafrance-It's one of the reasons why I think Soderbergh is one of cinema's great filmmakers. He knows how to play with conventions while finding ways to get Hollywood stars to actually get dirty and play meaty roles without the lure of playing to expectations in Hollywood.