|HD DVD Drama|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Saturday, 01 December 2007|
More than that, though, Roberts delivers one of the sharpest bits of acting in her career. If the movie is to be believed, the real Erin Brockovich had a mouth on her that wouldn’t quit and attitude out the wazoo. Roberts can turn on innocent charm, sultry seductress, and brazen harlot like they’re all taps on the kitchen sink. She moves effortlessly through the emotion requirements of the scenes and draws the viewers into the remarkable character she creates.
Of course, the real Erin Brockovich was a lot like Roberts’s screen character, and was indeed a single mom of three kids, so much of the struggle. But in the interview in the Special Features section of the HD DVD, the real Brockovich conducts herself in an honest, forthright, and professional manner that belies the on-screen presentation. However, listening to her convinced me that she could be tough as nails if the situation warranted it.
The movie opens up with Brockovich out of work and looking for a job. We don’t know anything about her. Roberts plays the role so low-key that the viewer doesn’t need to know much about her. The desperate straits she’s in are immediately apparent. She needs a job, and she’s having no luck at all although people are being friendly and men seem a little more than interested in her.
However, the plot shifts gears quickly. Soon, Brockovich’s car is struck by a Jaguar. The lawsuit that follows puts her in contact with attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney), and both their lives are forever changed. On the witness stand at the court hearing, Erin demonstrates her ability to slip between charming to offensively egregious with her language and her readiness to stand up for herself. Masry visibly cringes while Erin’s tirade takes shape, and it’s pretty much his tone throughout much of the film.
Later, when she still can’t get a job, Erin goes to Masry’s law offices and starts working. She tells the people there that she has a job. When Masry confronts him about it, she gets in his face, then talks to him softly and asks him not to make her beg. This strength of character is what made Erin standout to me, and Roberts brings it all off so perfectly you can’t help being mesmerized. She is so hard-edged that most people couldn’t imagine being her friend, at least not in public places, but her troubles are everyone’s troubles – on steroids.
The scenes where the other women working in the law firm deliberately snub are reminded me, a little, of those scenes in “Pretty Woman” (another Roberts favorite of mine and so many other viewers) where the shopkeepers refused to wait on her. However, these scenes play differently because Richard Gere doesn’t come riding in to save her. Erin stands up to all of them, takes their passive abuse, and dishes scathing commentary on their looks and their abilities.
The beginning of the Pacific Gas & Electric suit is so subtle that most people are going to miss it. The first time through I blew it off, but on subsequent viewings it was amazing to see how scriptwriter Susannah Grant gently nudges the story’s focus from Erin just enough to rope the PG&E story in. Of course, it’s all ultimately Erin’s story, but the handoff was well done. Director Steven Soderbergh followed the suggestions provided by the script effortlessly, and the story is stronger because it’s so quietly handled.
The story moves along quickly, juxtaposing Erin’s learning curve about the legal business and toxic waste, as well as balancing her problems as a working mother and girlfriend. Her romance scenes with George (Aaron Eckhart), the biker boyfriend who lives next door, demonstrate her vulnerability in spite of her tough talk and aggressiveness. Eckhart is absolutely fantastic as George. From their first introduction, when Erin yells at him about gunning his Harley at night, to her taking him around to show him what he helped accomplish, George plays the bad boy with the heart of gold. His comical acting, like his fall after Erin shoots him down at the door the first time they talked, wasn’t scripted and he stole the show for just a heartbeat. That’s what a good support cast does, and Eckhart had little moments like that throughout the movie.
The real story is Erin’s relationship with the people that PG&E took advantage of. The way she’s able to talk to them and care about them is portrayed so honestly that the viewer feels the pain and confusion those people went through. Marg Helgenberger (“CSI’s” Catherine Willows) is outstanding as Donna. When Donna finally started believing Erin, you can see the understanding dawn in her eyes, followed closely by the fear. The scene where she goes tearing out of the house to get her kids out of the swimming pool is so everyday that it’s even scarier. Just little things like that, like swimming or drinking a glass of water, left these people permanently marked.
The relationship between Masry and Erin is dynamic. In the special features sections on the HD DVD, the genuine warmth and compassion the two had for each other is strongly evident. Masry died in 2005, and you know that Erin feels his absence on a daily basis. Some of the deleted scenes show further development of the characters that isn’t needed for this film. Some of them actually take the edge off what’s taking place onscreen. Erin’s apology while she’s sick and in the hospital bed is at the wrong place and takes away the closing confrontation between the two.
Albert Finney is absolutely stellar as Ed Masry. He’s strong and secure in himself, so when Erin rocks him the scenes work to their best advantage. He’s also somewhat disorganized in his personal life, which Erin uses against him, and Finney plays those instances with just the right amount of guarded insecurity. His actions among their clients as Erin educates him how to handle them is great. He’s on as steep a learning curve then as Erin has been throughout the film.
Peter Coyote delivers the staid lawyer and cop types with quiet reserve. If he hadn’t become an actor, he could have easily pursued either of those vocations. He has their no-nonsense behaviors down pat. Although he doesn’t steal any scenes in “Erin Brockovich”, Coyote provides the wall and buffer that allows Roberts to hone her sharp-tongued, defiant portrayal and viewers will cheer for her as she proves she’s more than they thought she could be.
Conchata Ferrell (“Two and a Half Men”) scores big-time as Brenda, Masry’s nosey and judgmental secretary, although she ends up taking the worst of it in this movie instead of delivering the biting sarcasm she’s known for in her current series.
Tracey Walter keeps reappearing throughout the film but no clue is given about what his true role is going to be until he steps out of the shadows and introduces himself. He plays Charles Embry, the man who gives Erin Brockovich the company memos she needs to win the lawsuit. He’s one of those actors that constantly deliver a simple, understated role that often stands out and gets remembered by movie fans.
T. J. Thyne (“Bones”) costars as a young lawyer sent by PG&E to open negotiations. He seems so young and innocent in this scene, totally overwhelmed by Erin. He’s a standout performer on “Bones” and it’s interesting to see where he was when he first started out.
The video presentation of the film is excellent HD DVD quality. One of the things that makes this picture stand out is how much of it is shot in natural light. The countryside is beautiful and the HD presentation brings out the features. One of the most compelling visual examples is a montage of scenes showing Erin collecting water samples and a dead frog as evidence. The lighting and the scenes are captivating, and the high-def rendering will make you feel as though you are hunkered down there beside her.
The audio sequencing of the film wasn’t as flamboyant, but part of that is due to the movie, not the technology. “Erin Brockovich” doesn’t depend on a collection of top 40 songs to propel the action or trigger emotional responses on part of the audiences. Many of the scenes are simply people talking in quiet voices about large, emotional issues. The sequences are crystal-clear and you can hear the emotion the actors and actresses are tapping into to get the material across.
The special features are good. The interviews with Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry were great. I really enjoyed seeing how these two people are and was in real life. Those interviews gave even more depth to the film. The deleted scenes add another 30 minutes of film that were cut out. The scenes were actually in the original script (I checked) but you can see instantly why they weren’t added. The film as it stands is streamlined and works exceptionally well. If the sequences with Erin succumbing to meningitis, while compelling, got in the way of the overall story and would have made the film bloated. Likewise the scene where Erin started getting a nosebleed like so many of the victims of the hexavalent chromium only started up a whole new worry when the viewer already has plenty to think about. Usually I like having the deleted scenes, but these proved to be somewhat distracting even after seeing the movie.
One of the frustrating things I discovered while researching this movie is that the real George sued Erin after she got her bonus check. So did one of her ex-husbands. I liked George in the movie. Aaron Eckhart made him into a sweet guy with an independent streak. I was saddened to learn that this was just a Hollywood illusion. I know there are people out there who are good and care about each other to help out. George in the movie is one of those.
“Erin Brockovich” is an excellent film for the times. It offers statements about women’s independence, environmental issues, family, the role of the champion, and a simple faith in oneself to get things done. Every time I watch the movie I go through a gamut of emotions and enjoy the deep resonance Roberts has with the character. The language is harsh, and isn’t the kind of language that gets by in movies these days. Even John Travolta, Colin Farris, and Bruce Willis have gotten curbed for the language they normally used. This one isn’t for the kiddies yet, but wait till they grow a little, then sit down and watch it with them.