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Overall Rating
3.3

Awesome: 10.94%
Worth A Look34.38%
Average: 31.25%
Pretty Bad: 20.31%
Total Crap: 3.13%

5 reviews, 34 user ratings


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Civil Action, A
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by Derek

"IS: courtroom horror film. ISN'T: Jennifer Love Hewitt's tits."
4 stars

If you expect all courtroom movies to be like A FEW GOOD MEN or an episode of "L.A. Law," then don't see A CIVIL ACTION. However...

...if you can appreciate a legal film that has its feet firmly on the ground of the real world, you can be amply rewarded by this movie.

I'll admit, I bristled when I found out that John Travolta had been cast in the lead of this movie. Nothing against him, but I thought that this was an early sign of Hollywoodizing a character who needs to be a very regular guy (I had read and really liked the book). Gladly, though, I report that my fears went unrealized.

A CIVIL ACTION is the retelling of a true-life case. A group of families from rinky-dink Woburn, MA sued two huge companies whose factories in their town may have contaminated the drinking water, causing the a "cluster" of cancer cases and some deaths. We meet Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) at the film's beginning, a Boston personal-injury lawyer on a hot streak. He drives a Porsche, goes on radio shows, and kicks courtroom ass. He becomes drawn in by a poignant appeal from a Woburn mother of a dead boy, and takes on the case despite its being designated "a black hole" by his colleagues.

Quickly, we begin to see why this kind of case, however righteous, drifts between rejections from various law firms (an "orphan," as they call it). Getting evidence of groundwater contamination involves hiring all kinds of scientists and well-drillers, and creating a lot of flashy visual aids to illustrate the arcane data to a jury of Joe Schmoes. Travolta and his financial adviser (William H. Macy, reliable as ever) quickly begin borrowing money from powerful bankers as thier costs pile up into the millions.

To make matters more daunting, the two defendant companies are the behemoths W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods - which names are not changed in the film. They are defended by a coeterie of high-powered lawyers, headed by Robert Duvall as Jerry Facher, a brilliant eccentric. Facher is the top dog at a vast firm, but he carries a dilapidated legal bag, swipes food and pens from fancy buffets, and prefers to work in a basement file room, where people won't find him. Duvall was a slam-dunk for this role, and he's wise enough to underplay it. Still, it's not quite a turn that demands your Oscar vote - there are other good actors who could have played it equally well.

My only quibbles with the film are that perhaps by nature, it cannot convey the full effects of the case's unfolding as completely as the book did. I believe the actual case took 11 years to play out, and we don't get a sense of that here. There are also various vigniettes that I would have thought indispensable concerning Schlichtmann's personal losses, but I don't want to give away too much.

Tension in a movie like this comes in the passage of time, and the agonizing pace of the legal process. We see Schlichtmann's once-prosperous firm reduced to a threadbare operation pursued by creditors. At the center of this, we are aware that the end sought by his clients is not monetary - they just want the polluting companies to take responsibility for their children's deaths.

Like I indicated, watch - or rather LISTEN and watch - with your mind clear. This ain't no Perry Mason courtroom.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=747&reviewer=71
originally posted: 02/20/99 11:35:56
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User Comments

6/08/08 PAUL SHORTT IF YOU WANT TO SEE A COURTROOM FILM WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, THIS IS THE ONE 4 stars
10/08/07 {RIP}_Deadman It was great... Jack how can u say that the acting lacks imagination. The acting was awsome 5 stars
11/21/06 latif ossor good movie 5 stars
10/18/04 juan I think that this was a very good movie. Filmink Magazine owes viewers an appology. 5 stars
5/23/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back, Mo'Fos!) Yep, it was overrated. But, Travolta, Hedaya, & Macy were pretty good. 3 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Absolutely nothing new on display here. Even the acting's lacking in imagination. 2 stars
4/04/02 Francis good production values, but fails to sustain interest to the end 3 stars
7/07/01 Scott "David and Goliath," my *ss; arrogant attorney blowing a big case he should have settled. 5 stars
6/30/01 Damn What do I konw? 2 stars
6/10/01 Phil M. Afficianado Thought provoker/disturber like Erin B & Insider. Good work to do 11 yrs in 115 minutes 4 stars
9/29/00 Terrie Smith One of the better Travolta films; nice performance from Robert Duvall in a small role. 4 stars
5/02/00 Fishsticks Not sensationalised into a thriller- and its pretty good. 4 stars
11/28/99 mpls31 I REALLY Loved it! BEST THING EVER 5 stars
11/04/99 Ben Leostein Rating: *** (out of ****) Category: "Good" 4 stars
7/24/99 Jacques Strapp Movie about a lawyer who goes broke because he's stupid and egotistical. Lame. 2 stars
4/01/99 Ah Dooey Hey Derek, you're right. 4 stars
3/02/99 slimshady yawn..wake me when its over 1 stars
2/27/99 Lonnie Sandberg Bad ending they just wanted to get it done 2 stars
2/22/99 Jeff HOUN Disappointing, all information not passed on to viewers on test results taken on grounds 2 stars
2/18/99 Derek Truthful portrayal of civil litigation. Surprisingly successful adaptation of the book. 4 stars
2/18/99 Piz Very smart film but got boring and worse as it went 3 stars
1/26/99 Tony K. Thought-provoking and engrossing, despite Travolta's unconvincing delivery of his lines. 4 stars
1/25/99 jvt poor direction and it drags but it's a fine legal film overall 3 stars
1/25/99 Meepos. Quintessential disappointment. Expected better. 3 stars
1/24/99 Melissa Very overrated. Duvall, Macy and Travolta are good, just not a great film. 3 stars
1/19/99 grunter a courtroom drama about poisened drinking water? yeah, that'll rake in the bucks 1 stars
1/16/99 Scott Weber This movie is not very good. The story is okay, but it doesn't go anywhere. 2 stars
1/13/99 buddy Well acted, nicely written and directed. 5 stars
1/12/99 Mr Showbiz William H. Macy and Robert Duvall do their level best to enliven the proceedings, but John 3 stars
1/12/99 cynthia thought it would be better 3 stars
1/12/99 Gamma Not enough of Lithgow for me, his moments were good. Duvall == awesome. Ending was weak 4 stars
12/27/98 Kirgo Well done...subtle...great editing 4 stars
12/26/98 The Dude very cool - its kind of a drama, thriller 5 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Sloooooow. Directorial overkill. Disappointing. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-1998 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-Apr-1999 (PG)


Directed by
  Steven Zaillian

Written by
  Jonathan Harr

Cast
  John Travolta
  Robert Duvall
  James Gandolfini
  Dan Hedaya
  John Lithgow



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