A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Julia Roberts and Albert Finney lift Erin Brockovich far beyond the level of one more earnest movie about the sins of corporate America. With a bantering, bickering dialogue, they generate the welcome involuntary laughter that sweeps through an audience that is having a good time. And yet this grand chemistry never diminishes the central tragedy of this true story: Pacific Gas and Electric poisoned its workers and neighbors knowingly and lied to them about it for a long time.

The toxic chromium that saturated the water table around the plant carried disease to residents in the area. As death, cancer, miscarriages, and debilitation spread through families, the company admitted its guilt by trying to buy them off with modest settlement sums. Into this genuine tragedy steps Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts), dressed with perfect inappropriateness for the job she is taking on. She's a costume designer's dream.

Short skirts, tank tops over colorful bras, spiked heels, and a fierce determination to succeed are just who Erin is. Squaring off against male and female lawyers in suits of standard gray, she lets no concession mar the consistency of her dress code or her foul mouth. She's a brassy dame. She also has three children who she leaves in the care of her longhaired, Harley Davidson-loving neighbor, George (Aaron Eckhart).

Erin is hellbent on public recognition of her talents. With no legal experience whatsoever, she has shoved her way into a job at Ed Masry's small, fusty law firm. Weary Ed (Albert Finney) is considering retirement when he is hit by Erin's bulldog insistence that Pacific Gas & Electric be exposed. The rest is the truth of the case: discovery, search, and convincing the victims to testify. Erin wins their trust by the sheer force of her integrity. Integrity clothed in tank tops is great stuff. Laughter and tragedy are meshed seamlessly.

Ms. Roberts has never been better. Her face is such a map of human emotion that no director can resist zooming in to catch her subtlety. Albert Finney's gruff and gentle Ed is the perfect foil for Roberts's bulldozer. Aaron Eckhart gives a wonderfully tender performance as the babysitter who understands the needs of the children even better than their mother. Susannah Grant's unsentimental screenplay captures the dilemma of the working mother - especially one driven to right a wrong. It's a real trick to put sweetness at the core of the main characters without turning things to sugar.

The movie never rests. It powers along at a fast clip in a clever blend of high humor and drama toward a resolution that is both original and unexpected. Credit writer Grant, director Steven Soderbergh, a fine score, and Messrs. Finney and Eckhart. Above all, enjoy watching Julia Roberts prove just how good she really is. Much is made of her high price tag, but price is irrelevant when an actor can create a character who is smart, funny, outrageous, sensitive-and victorious.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Universal/Jersey Films
Rating : R
Running time : 2h11m

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