Picks and Pans Review: Erin Brockovich

UPDATED 03/20/2000 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/20/2000 at 01:00 AM EST

Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger

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Erin Brockovich's idea of appropriate office wear would be appropriate only if she worked at Frederick's of Hollywood. Her boss (Finney), a lawyer who heads a small firm in Los Angeles, takes a gander at her latest outfit (plunging neckline, teeny miniskirt and skyscraper heels) and tells her, "You might want to rethink your wardrobe a little."

"You might want to rethink those ties," Brockovich (Roberts) retorts.

By the time this entertaining and inspiring true-life drama is over, both the contentious Brockovich and her boss will have rethought their views of each other and themselves as they work in tandem to win a legal battle against a powerful utility company. Named after its real-life heroine, Erin Brockovich is a throwback to such rousing biographical dramas as Norma Rae (1979) and Silkwood (1983), movies in which working-class women tirelessly take up a cause. Brockovich, a feisty, twice-divorced mother of three with only a high school diploma, joins their ranks when she finds (while filing papers on a real estate transaction) medical documents that eventually lead her to evidence that Pacific Gas & Electric contaminated the water supply of a California town, resulting in serious illness to the residents.

This well-worn formula is given a fresh feel thanks to sharp direction by Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight) and a powerhouse performance by Roberts (see story, page 100). Without ever sacrificing a watt of her movie-star radiance, she convincingly plays a downtrodden woman who discovers, in fighting for others, that she matters. Finney gives superb support, as does Eckhart as Brockovich's Harley-Davidson-riding beau. (Note: Look for the real Brockovich as a waitress wearing a "Julia" name tag.) (R)

Bottom Line: Roberts rules in an impressive drama

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