They're called boobs Ed.
The first breakout hit of the last year of the millennium, Erin Brockovich is the true story of a single mother of three who through fate and timing turned herself into a toxic investigator supreme. Brockovich (Julia Roberts), along with her boss, attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney), took on a huge corporation that was poisoning a small California town's drinking water and won. This movie carried over the success of star Julia Roberts from 1999 and furthered her reign as one of Hollywood's biggest box office draws.
Upon first inspection there is a lot to like with Erin Brockovich. Julia Roberts (Runaway Bride, Steel Magnolias, Mystic Pizza), is just about the only actress outside of a young Sally Kirkland that I could imagine playing this role and play it she does. Roberts takes the image the public has of her as a perky, cute and innocent leading lady and turns it on its ear. Perky has turned into spunky, cute has morphed into trash talking and innocence is thrown out the window. Yet it is still very much Julia Roberts. That award winning smile pops out often except after it is flashed, a four letter expletive or several, is likely to be tossed around as well. Oh, in all those push up bras and too tight mini skirts, she looks great as well. Roberts has grown into a major star in the old Hollywood mode. To make comparisons to such greats as Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn are not that far off the mark. Roberts commands and lights up the screen like those stars of yesteryear.
Erin Brockovich is built very much as a star vehicle for her and it runs a pretty brisk 130 minutes. Excluding credits, I can't think of a single frame that Roberts was not in. It really is her movie all the way. On the surface she manages to be funny, brash, intelligent and compassionate and most of all, human.
It is not often that a film gets out of the Hollywood production machine that features such a strong female lead. To Erin Brockovich's credit, it is such a movie. Brockovich may be crass and sometimes ill-mannered but she has her heart in the right place. She takes up her cause, finds out who the bad guys are and brings them down. In the process of fighting the good fight, Brockovich also discovers herself and her talents. Think Norma Rae in a micro mini.
As her boss and the man who risked financial ruin if he lost this big case is the great Albert Finney (A Man Of No Importance, Miller's Crossing, The Dresser), as attorney Ed Masry. Basically playing straight man to Roberts' Brockovich, Finney has a few moments to shine but is mostly relegated to the background. American accent firmly in tow, Finney manages to convey quite a bit with the little time and material he is given.
The third part of Erin Brockovich's triangle is Aaron Eckhart (Any Given Sunday, In The Company Of Men), as her sometimes live-in boyfriend/babysitter, George. In the film's major role reversal, George is the woman of the relationship. He is the one who stays home, watches Erin's three children and complains about how Erin takes him for granted. Eckhart is normally a powerful presence onscreen but here he is just bland. There is nothing wrong with his work, but like so much of the film, his work just lacks character and depth.
Special mention should be made of one other performance. Cherry Jones (The Perfect Storm, Cradle Will Rock, The Horse Whisperer), as Pamela Duncan. Duncan was the one person in the small town of Hinkley looked to when it came time to move forward with the lawsuit. She was the town's conscience and her thoughts mattered. Jones takes the little screen time she has and gives the film the sense of moral outrage that it so desperately needs. Her work is a revelation and is the film's single best performance.
This is a Universal release so chances are it is going to look and sound great and for the most part, that is indeed the case. Presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Erin Brockovich receives a really fine anamorphic transfer. The picture has a lovely glow to it that is both warm and true to the golden colors used by Director Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape, Out Of Sight), and Cinematographer Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides, The Limey, True Stories). Flesh tones and colors are life like and true with blacks and night time scenes being pretty solid, showing great detail. There is the slightest degree of pixelization and edge enhancement present but it really is a minor distraction and does not distract from the image which is overall, quite pleasing.
Sound is of the Dolby Digital 5.1 nature and it too is quite warm and pleasing. This is a dialogue driven film and everything is well mixed, being heard to good effect. Rear surrounds are not used much and the .LFE is rarely heard from. It's nothing flashy, but it's effective. Although one of the big benefits is the score of Thomas Newman (Three Kings, American Beauty, The Green Mile) is given a wonderful platform to be enjoyed.
For a release that is not given Collector Edition status there is a lot here. Almost too much for its own good, but more on that later. First off the highlight of the extras is almost 30 minutes of deleted footage available with or without director's commentary. This is one of the first times where I thought every deleted scene, save one, belonged back in the film. Looking at these scenes changed my whole opinion of the film, again, read further for that.
The disc also has a "Spotlight on Location" featurette from Universal and a look at the real Erin Brockovich in "Erin Brockovich: A Look At a Real Life Experience." Both are quite good and a very good impression of who Brockovich is well conveyed. Be aware though, there is a lot of information about the movie relayed in these two features so the first-time viewer is best off watching them after having seen the movie.
Also included is the movie's original theatrical trailer, production notes and cast and filmmakers biographies. DVD-ROM features close out the disc. Once more Universal proves they are one of the leaders in both value and in content. If only studios like Disney and especially MGM would learn a lesson from them, I would be a MUCH happier judge.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Erin Brockovich is pretty funny movie, which to me, is the films biggest problem. At its core, this is a movie that should be about a fight against a huge corporation that was knowingly poisoning the citizens of a small town, all in the name of the almighty bottom line. It should be a film about self growth and finding the things that make life worth living. Instead the movie is content to scratch the surface of those serious issues, making itself instead a semi-relevant laugh fest. In what could have been the film's crowning emotional moment, the scene where Brockovich and Masry present all the signatures that are needed to initiate their lawsuit plus coming up with the smoking gun they were looking for to seal the case, does the film take a moment to cheer? No. Instead the entire weight of the moment is cheapened with the mother of all blow job jokes. Funny? Hell yes. Honoring the spirit of moment? Hell no.
Chalk it up to there sometimes being too much material on a DVD but my initial feelings of goodwill and enjoyment for this movie changed after I watched the 30 minutes or so of deleted footage. Sure there were parts watching Erin Brockovich the first time out that I was more than a little reminded of other, better films such as Silkwood, A Civil Action or Norma Rae, but most of those feelings were washed away by the energy and charm of Julia Roberts' work in the main role. Then those damn deleted scenes came along. With the excised material I found the sense of intensity and personal involvement missing from the finished product. The whole subplot that was cut out of the film would have, at least to my mind, given the movie a feeling of something really being at stake for its main character. To add insult to injury, the single best scene in the movie is the last of the disc's deleted options. It has been several days since I last watched the film and that scene is the one that has remained in my mind.
I'm sure to get some arguments on this statement but I think Steven Soderbergh gives the best commentary track discussions of anybody out there. Not the funniest mind you, but for in-depth, informative breakdowns of a film, I don't feel anybody comes close. I also feel that when Steven Soderbergh is on the top of his game, he is among the most talented and exciting of film directors working today. Whenever I am speaking of directors to watch with friends and fellow film lovers I put his name along side of contemporaries such as David Fincher (Fight Club, The Game), Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Felicia's Journey), David O. Russell (Three Kings, Spanking The Monkey), Steven Zallian (Searching For Bobby Fischer), Alexander Payne (Election) and Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore).
Watching the movie proper I never got the feeling of it being a Soderbergh production. This is a very well made and constructed movie to be sure but all of the zest and zip that I associate with Soderbergh's body of work is strangely missing. Perhaps constructed is a good way to look at Erin Brockovich. Nail in a little piece of that movie, weld on a little piece from that film and cut away anything that might make it special or personal. The film, for all its obvious charms, just seems hollow. It's as if Soderbergh either found himself lost in a big budget Hollywood movie or he simply lost interest, content to collect a fat paycheck and go through the motions.
To my knowledge, this is the first DVD release of a movie directed by Soderbergh that does not feature one of the director's outstanding commentary tracks. That is, until you arrive at the deleted footage. I may be wrong but I think it is in this extra footage that the core of what Soderbergh may have been attracted to in the first place, comes shining through. I feel that as the final product stands, Erin Brockovich is a vacuous piece of mass entertainment that could and should have been so much more. I know I would not want to spend two hours talking about it.
Fans of Julia Roberts will not be disappointed with Erin Brockovich. If you are such a fan, by all means, pick this disc up. As is the norm, Universal does a bang-up job on the video/audio end and they throw in more extras on a non Special Edition release than almost anybody else out there. So the value is certainly present.
As a film, Erin Brockovich needs to be thought of as Steven Soderbergh lite. There is nothing wrong with the movie; it just never flies as high as it could have. This was, however, a movie almost predestined to do big box office. So if making a film like this is the price Soderbergh has to pay in order to get other projects such as The Limey and the upcoming Traffic made, well, maybe it is not such a high price to pay.
I only wish Universal had used the technique of seamless branching in order to show what Soderbergh's original cut would have looked like. That would have made the disc a really special Special Edition and maybe then we could have gotten that commentary track.
Universal is acquitted for another job well done. The court only wishes they would give into a little more self promotion and label Special Editions as such. The case against Director Steven Soderbergh is also dismissed because of past and expected, future glories. This judge realizes that sometimes the end does indeed justify the means.
This court is now in recess. Good day.
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Scales of Justice
• Spotlight on Location: The Making of Erin Brockovich
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