on October 11, 2000
A Civil action is a solid movie with some good performances and a story that does not cave into Hollywood's propensity for clichés.
I was not expecting a whole lot from this movie, so I was pleasantly surprised. It offers an intriguing story based on real events surrounding the contamination of the water supply in the small, industrial Boston suburb. However, it seems to be at least as much if not more so about the legal process than about the suit itself. Travolta, who plays the prosecuting attorney, Jan Schlichtmann, before the trial was a successful was a not very respected personal injury lawyer (A.K.A. ambulance chaser). During the progression of the story, he narrates advice to the audience as if a he is a law professor. It is this instruction that he himself does not follow and thus leads to trouble for himself and his clients. The movie, in this way, is almost as much about the seemingly illogical logic behind litigation then it is about the individual case it portrays.
Travolta does an excellent job as the attorney who feels he constantly has something to prove to the corporate monstrosities of Beatrice and Grace and their Harvard-educated attorneys (Schlichtmann, it turns out, graduated from lowly Northwestern). Robert Duvall plays Jerome Facher, Beatrice's lawyer, as an old wise man who has seen everything and is impossible to ruffle. All he wants is to be left alone to eat his lunch in peace and he is content. William H. Macy plays Schlichtmann's firm's increasingly depressed accountant who is forced to leverage the partner's mortgages and take pile charges onto 20 credit cards in the seemingly hopeless effort to wait out the juggernauts their firm is up against.
The DVD is itself very mediocre. It has a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, but because this isn't an action film, but more of a human/courtroom drama, there's really not a whole lot here to take advantage of 5.1 channels. The only "special feature" of this DVD is the so-called "Production Featurette" which must be all of 5 minutes long and amounts to more of a glorified trailer than anything else - basically it's just a rehash of scenes from the movie with a couple of really quick takes from Travolta and Macy about the movie. I hope that Touchstone will improve a bit on these featurettes in the future to where they actually contain some significant content.
on September 30, 2000
A taut probing look at lawyers, the law, judges, corporate giants vs the people, its victims. This film depicts sharp crafty hot-shot lawyers interested only in pursuing personal injury suits guaranteed to win huge settlements- finally immersing themselves in a case that may be beyond their ability to win, crushing their confidence and dismantling their ranks and their finances. The case is worthy, the victims deserving of justice, and the battle collossal. John Travolta as the top obsessed lawyer is excellent, and Robert Duvall as a wise, old opponent is superb. A magnificient cast rounds out this drama concerning the illness of adults, deaths of innocent children, and animals because of contaminated drinking water and industrial pollution. Unfolding the massive cover-up and getting this case into the courtroom to be heard is almost impossible, but our hero plods on. Gripping, intense, yet uplifting and redeeming in its concept of the often frustrating saga of " trying to do the right thing." I liked the film. Yes it deviated from the book, but films often take a creative twist. It begins on a "Jerry Maguire-SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!!!" tone, but expands into "A Philadelphia Story" of sorts.
on July 17, 2000
After recently reading Jonathan Harr's book A Civil Action, I eagerly awaited seeing the movie version of this sad and absorbing story. The film version condenses the story and leaves out several interesting portions of the book, but is fine nevertheless. John Travolta is a perfect choice to play Jan Schlichtmann, the egotistical, free-spending attorney who dives headfirst into a damages case against the corporate giants Beatrice and W.R. Grace, who are accused of poisoning the drinking water of Woburn, Massachusetts and causing a leukemia outbreak. William H. Macy, Tony Shalhoub, and Zeljko Ivanek co-star as Schlichtmann's partners in the firm, and one only wishes that they would have protested his actions, which led to the financial ruin of him and his firm.
Robert Duvall gives another terrific performance as Jerome Facher, Beatrice's attorney, who is the complete opposite of Schlichtmann. In a scene at a fancy hotel conference room, the frugal Facher is not impressed by any of the lawyers or their arguments, but the free pen that he can take home. It's a subtly funny scene that illustrates Facher perfectly. John Lithgow does a terrific job as Judge Walter Skinner, who Schlichtmann believes is siding with the enemy.
A Civil Action is a story where the winners and losers are unclear, and it must have been difficult for writer-director Steven Zaillian to condense Harr's technical-laden novel. The result is a solid drama with powerhouse acting. Highly recommended.
on June 24, 2000
This is the most incredible movie ever made about trying a wrongful death case and the accompanying emotional roller coaster the process generates for attorneys. The opening scene will plant you firmly in your chair as Jan Schlichtmann (played by John Travolta) explains the financial calculus behind accepting and declining potential clients with personal injury claims. Jerome Facher (played by Robert Duvall) is infuriating with his unending legal maneuverings designed to extract his corporate client from an untenable legal position permeated with liability. The traitorous conduct of Schlichtmann's partners will make you wretch with disgust as they scramble to save themselves at the expense of righting a terrible wrong evidenced by a dozen dead children. Engrossing, to say the least.
Yes, the movie isn't perfect. Travolta's portrayal of Jan Schlichtmann doesn't completely mesh with the character in the book, there isn't a practicing attorney alive who doesn't know Rule 11 (court-imposed sanctions for unethical conduct), and the legal proceedings aren't quite right. Who cares? If the director had included the day-to-day minutiae involved in getting a case to trial, the film would have been three years long! My fellow reviewers are unreasonable in their unrelenting critiques.
If you're involved in the legal profession, this film will make you step back and reassess your brand of client representation. Are you taking the right cases? Are you serving the needs of you clients - or yourself? Are you willing to give your all to the law? Interesting, and always stimulating, food for thought.
If you're a lay person, hold on - you're in for the ride of your life.
on May 4, 2000
If you enjoy the ABC television series "The Practice", you are sure to enjoy this suspenseful legal drama, based on a true story of corporate abuse. Though we are not a big fan's of John Travolta, he is very good in his role as the "eager money-seeking" lawyer he plays in this film. I particularly enjoy films based on true stories, because there are so many stories of injustice in America, why make up new ones? This one follows several small and large companies (Beatrice Foods is named specifically) who (basically) poison a community through several legal and moral violations of environmental law. The film leaves you wondering how such injustices continue to occur in America? It should also make you question each and every major corporation you do business with. The film captures the irony of lawyers at their best and their worst. The movie closes with an interesting twist - the one issue that the legal team lost focus on during their attempt to find justice.
on February 24, 2000
This is a fine movie, just inaccurate. When I saw the movie I knew precious little about the events surrounding the Woburn case. Since the movie I've grown quite familiar with the case- for a class at the law school I attend I was required to read the book and read a companion to the book containing copies of the actual documents the two sides entered into evidence. The movie, I came to realize, was a fine piece of cinema but grossly inaccurate as to what actually happened in the book.
Travolta is fine as Jan Schlictman, the lawyer pursuing the case against the W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods Corporations for dumping TCE into the river around the city of Woburn. Critics of the book who disliked the slight slant author Jonathan Harr gave to Schlictman and the plaintiffs will really dislike the larger slant the film gives in their favor. The real Jan Schlictman is hardly the callous jerk the movie makes him out to be in the beginning. Likewise the movie also makes caricatures out of Schlictman's foes- Grace lawyer William Cheeseman (who is unfairly portrayed as a doofus) and Beatrice lawyer Jerome Facher (who comes across as a scheming, Machiavellian presence). Critics also quarrel with the film's portrayal of Judge Walter J. Skinner, who is made out to be a tyrannical presence in the courtroom.
In terms of acting I rather liked Robert Duvall's turn as Facher. He gives a lot of depth to Facher, where a lesser actor would have made Facher a cartoonish villain. It is important to understand that Facher, Schlictman, and Cheeseman were not evil people- they were just advocates for their clients doing their best. The movie also leaves out a lot of important details and misportrays a lot of events. (The portrayal of the Rule 11 hearing, for example, is utterly wrong.) Those not familiar with the book will find Harr's analysis of the pretrial maneuvering to be facinating, but totally gone from the movie.
Don't misunderstand me- the movie is very good, on the balance. It gets some things right about the law (one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people take legal facts they hear from movies and believe they are actually real), and the performances are (mostly) quite good. The book is just better.
on February 12, 2000
I can't believe people gave this movie a good review. I saw it, sure its a good movie but not a five star movie! John Travolta and Robert Duvall are at the turning point in their careers. The only person I thought who did an "exceptional" job was William H. Macy (Mystery Men, Psycho: a remake, Boogie Nights). I'll admit John Travolta did a good job same with Robert Duvall but the movie is too low grade for them. The plot is about a town where people are dying of a possible contamination in the water. Thats where clever lawyer John Travolta comes in. At first it seems like the case is too good to be true so e immediatly signs on... Well it turns out it isn't that easy and the company Jonny-o is filing against isn't backing down... On a rating of A+ to a f I'd give it a C+. The movies characters are written exceptionally and well acted. But the plot ceases to entertain you.
on July 1, 1999
I did not like this movie, there was all this talk about how it was supposed to scare you and stuff. If you want to get an awesome law movie, get the rainmaker. i would pass this one. the only person that I feel should get recognised for a brilliant performance is Cathleen Quinlan. You can tell by the way she acts that she really lost something. Anyway, this whole"Somethings Wrong With the water" case could have worked, but it didn't. And in this movie, why would John travolta's character give up all of his money to this case, the ending is not very happy, not that all movies need to have happy endings(take brad pitt's character's ending in Se7en for example). But you may like it sitting through a long movie that moves very slowly, but I did not like it. I request that If you want to go see a good Travolta performance, grab your coat and go to a theater closest to you,(or farthest if you perfer) and go see "The Generals Daughter". I think you should stick to Travolta's action flicks and mystery flicks. :(
on June 6, 2002
This is an extremely entertaining film, well worth seeing.
Among other things, it features an exchange wherein Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall) said to Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) that lawsuits are the means by which lawyers "make money."
Lawyers definitely do not "make" money. "Making" money means bringing into being something of value that people genuinely want. It does not mean being a jackal to misfortune and/or promulgating a bunch of costly legal rigamarole. Some lawyers do help protect the money that truly productive people have made, but the overwhelming majority of shysters are out to simply GET (grab, loot, cozen, swindle) as much of that money as they can, via any conceivable means by which they can skim it from the pot. That is certainly the sort of lawyer we saw in this terrific film.
And to top it off, you get to hear Talking Heads' "Take Me To The River" at the end of it. GREAT song!
on January 11, 2000
According to the reviews on Amazon I stood a good chance of buying a great movie from my favorite on-line movie store. But alas, this time I was disappointed by the yarn that was spun by Steve Zaillan et al. The movie was simply too long for what it had to tell. Don't get me wrong: I like a good long movie when there is a good build-up of suspense or maybe an in-depth character study that really gets you into the movie. "A civil action" had neither I'm afraid. Although I really like Robert Duvall a lot, I have to say that the character he plays in this movie is just too strange to be more than fleetingly interesting. The story winds down from a good start to a very disappointing anti-climax. The people who are at the heart of this story (the parents of the children that have died of various polution-related diseases) are markedly absent and this alone renders the movie inadequate and frankly, a waste of time.