Erin Brockovich (2000)

Steven Soderbergh | 2hr 10min

It takes more than a good actor to command the screen the way Julia Roberts does as Erin Brockovich’s titular beauty queen turned lawyer. This role could have only ever been pulled off by someone with the presence, charisma, and confidence of a true movie star, delivering whip-smart takedowns and monologues that simultaneously stretch credulity and inspire cheers. Steven Soderbergh may assert his own stylistic freedom every now and again, but there is no doubt that this biopic is primarily a showcase for Roberts, who is as profusely articulate as ever in her Oscar-winning role.

Brockovich herself is a cunning, self-aware character, fully understanding the ways in which her presentation can be used either against her or to her advantage. That she so effortlessly works her way into a job at a law firm with no prior experience already sets her up as a woman with a powerful authority, but as she follows a trail of real estate files and medical records, it is her shrewd mind which becomes her most admirable quality. In low-cut tops and heels, she drives out to the rural community of Hinkley where she puts on the act of a naïve secretary and charms local administrators into providing access to documents. Enemies are made along the way though, and even within her own firm she butts horns with co-workers who condemn her manipulative methods and abrasive personality.

Sparse as it is, Soderbergh does on occasion let through traces of his Alan J. Pakula influence, particularly in those low angles that captures rows upon rows of fluorescent lights lining the ceilings of offices and courtrooms, shedding a murky glow over his mustard yellow production design. The impact of these visuals is subtle but significant, casting Erin’s pursuit of truth in a dangerous light while remaining true to the era-specific décor, especially when she heads out to bars and city streets at night where green neon signs dimly illuminate her environment.

For the most part though, the menacing threat of Erin’s legal adversaries merely linger in the background. As a strong-willed woman in a profession that emphasises gender roles, she predominantly faces accusations within her own office of being emotional and erratic, as well making her work personal. From her perspective, she has every right to do so. Her holistic investment in her pursuit of truth and justice is both her greatest strength and flaw, and makes her passion all the more infectious and fascinating to watch. Together, Soderbergh and Roberts keep us in Erin Brockovich’s tight grip, and energetically drive the narrative towards its stirring, rewarding conclusion.

Erin Brockovich is currently streaming on Binge, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Video.

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