A crowd-pleasing, "based on true events" drama that sidesteps the usual treacly sentiment, Erin Brockovich finally gave Julia Roberts a role that capitalized on her strengths as it expanded her range, and in the process catapulted Steven Soderbergh into the highest echelon of Hollywood directors. Working from Susannah Grant's zinger-packed script, Soderbergh and Roberts portray Brockovich's crusade not as a leaden, courtroom-bound affair, but as a bustling, unpredictable journey: her everyday struggles with unreliable babysitters, reckless drivers, and unsympathetic employers are just as important as her effort to topple a corporate cover-up, and just as entertaining. Brockovich is brassy, foul-mouthed, and at times pig-headed, and there's no attempt to soften the character or bend her will to fit the saintly transformations of traditional melodrama. Instead of attempting a Meryl Streep-style disappearing act, Roberts accentuates the qualities that made her a star -- humor, empathy, confidence -- while inviting the audience to wonder if her character isn't occasionally too reactionary or short-fused. The wonderfully understated Albert Finney further emphasizes the give and take: "I really hate you sometimes," he barks, his character's respect and sympathy comically evident. Even as the film nears its preordained happy ending, Soderbergh maintains an air of unpredictability, thanks in large part to the democratic cuts of legendary editor Anne V. Coates and the unobtrusive, hazily beautiful camerawork of Ed Lachman.
by Michael Hastings review