"A Civil Action"
Review written by: Alex Sandell


John Travolta as Jan
Schlichtmann.

What's the story?

In 1979, two wells supplying drinking water to East Woburn, Massachusetts were found to be contaminated. It was believed by many that the two toxic waste sights found the same year were the cause of the contamination, and also related to the high incidence of Leukemia, which led to the deaths of many local children, and health problems for dozens of others. It was also discovered that the toxic waste sights were owned by two *shock, gasp, it couldn't be!* large corporations; "Beatrice" and "W.R. Grace". Many members of the community felt these corporations should be held accountable for the tragedy which befell the town and wanted them to admit their wrongdoing and apologize to the parents who had lost their children. Of course the corporations wanted to do no such thing.

This is where Jan Schlictmann (John Travolta), a personal injury lawyer who has just hit the big time, comes in. Jan doesn't decide to take on the case until he finds out the Beatrice corporation is involved, which causes him to wrongly conclude that he's hit upon a gigantic cash-cow. Rather than striking it rich, he winds up discovering that no matter how quick-witted and "on the ball" you think you are, going up against a corporation may be biting off more than you can chew.

So how is it? (Get to the point, already)

"A Civil Action" is based on a novel by Jonathan Harr, which itself was based on a true story. Although remaining fairly faithful to the book, "A Civil Action" does take some liberties by adding more humor and, oddly enough, eliminating a lot of the emotional elements that made the book such an exceptional read. I think this ends up hurting the film.

By focusing primarily on Schlictmann's prosecution, and Jerome Facher's (Robert Duvall, in an excellent performance) defense team, the film doesn't leave much space for a heart. Only two of the victim's families are portrayed as more than just cameos in the picture. Both families have heart-wrenching stories and provide the backbone to the film. It is too bad only two such stories are shown, and in such a brief manner.

"A Civil Action" goes out of its way to portray the legal process accurately, while, at the same time, making sure the film moves along at a decent pace, and remains compelling throughout. It's fun to watch the way a lawyer thinks, the games he plays in the courtroom, the manipulative tactics performed on the judge and jury, witnesses and anyone involved even slightly with the case.

If you want to see a courtroom film with all the trimmings, this is the one. It adequately blows away the contrived John Grisham tripe that we've been fed for the past decade in legal "thrillers". If you'd like more than just a touch of humanity thrown in with your courtroom thrills, you may want to pass this one up and hope for something better next time.

What does it make you feel like eating?

Anything, as long as it's not manufactured by "Beatrice".

What are you selling us here???

Anything, as long as it's not manufactured by "Beatrice".

If it won an Oscar, what would it be?

"Most hated film by 'Beatrice'" - A Civil Action

On a scale of 1-10?

6

Agree? Disagree? Email me at alex@juicycerebellum.com

Text (Copyright) 1998 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. If you copy this, without my permission, or even copy the "juicy" format, we'll be in court longer than Bill Clinton!

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