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

Featured attraction

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

From Our Partners