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Film / Erin Brockovich

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Erin Brockovich is a 2000 film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Julia Roberts in the title role.

Erin Brockovich (Roberts) is a single mother without a job and with thousands of dollars in hospital bills from a car accident she was in (and unsuccessfully sued the other driver to pay). Desperate, she persuades her lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney) to hire her on as a legal assistant. While everyone else is very professional, Brockovich dresses trashily and is rather crude. Then one day, she begins to investigate the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and discovers they're dumping toxic waste into the water supply of Hinkley, California (about 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles by Interstate). By using her... considerable assets... she begins a legal battle that would end up the largest class action lawsuit in American history. Yes, this is Based on a True Story, and Erin Brockovich is a real woman. She gets a cameo as a waitress in a Greasy Spoon restaurant (and, in a cute little bit of irony, her name tag reads "Julia").

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor IS the Title Character
  • Amoral Attorney: Pretty much the entire PG&E legal team.
    • Also the guy representing the doctor who hit Erin's car and injured her, trying to make her look like a promiscuous money-grubbing liar.
    • Subverted with the lawyers with whom Erin and Ed join forces. They're not incompetent and they're determined to fight for the plaintiffs, but they also clearly don't see the people as anything more than a name and a case number, unlike Erin, who cares about them and knows every detail of their lives.
  • Beauty Is Bad: The other secretaries take an instant dislike to Erin. Her often abrasive personality probably doesn't help, but their attitudes seem to be based solely on how she looks and dresses.
  • Because I Said So: Played for a surprising amount of drama when Erin explains the water contamination to one of the residents of Hinkley. The mother looks outside in horror at her kids in a swimming pool and rushes to get them out. When the kids ask why they have to get out, she yells, "Because I said so!"
  • Based on a True Story
  • Benevolent Boss: Downplayed with Ed Masry. He can be abrasive sometimes — especially when he's locking horns with the opposition (or Erin) — but he's a very accommodating and generous boss. When Erin mentions some financial need, he offers to give her some of her paycheck early and hands her a $100 bill straight from his wallet. When he fires her, it's not out of malice, but because he thought she was playing hooky from work when she was actually doing research — and to be fair to him, she didn't tell him ahead of time what she was doing, didn't check in at all for several days, and didn't document her activities. He rehires her when it becomes clear he was mistaken, puts up with her bad attitude, listens to her good suggestions even when she's rude about it, and generally puts up with behavior that would get most people fired, all because he knows how dedicated she is and how valuable her results are.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hinkley plaintiffs win a combined $333 million, but still have years of expensive medical bills to contend with, and Hinkley is now full of acres of unlivable land. Erin is now no longer poor, but she and Ed have a new lawsuit to file against PG&E over contamination at another plant.
  • Blatant Lies: "There are plenty of other places I could find work."
  • Break Them by Talking: Averted. The young mail clerk sent by PG&E to offer a measly $250,000 to one family tries to impress on Ed how hopeless his Crusading Lawyer actions will be as PG&E is worth $28 billion dollars. Ed guffaws awe at this before exploding in the office with Erin at how insulting the offer was.
  • Covers Always Lie: The shot of Erin on the DVD cover never appears in the movie, save for a deleted scene.
  • Dirty Old Man: Erin thinks an old guy, Charles Embry, who keeps lurking around since the Hinkley community barbeque, is one of these. Although he does express some interest in her, it turns out he was just working up the nerve to tell her some sensitive information regarding the PG&E case.
  • Disappeared Dad: Erin's two exes. Given the implication that she's receiving no financial help from either of them, they're deadbeats as well.
  • Downer Beginning: In the film's beginning, Erin tries getting a job at a local doctor's office. After being turned down by said doctor, Erin discovers a parking ticket on her car, breaks a nail when she tries getting into it, and eventually suffers neck injuries after said car gets T-boned.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Ed Masry's law practice is portrayed as a small-time study in diminished expectations.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who is familiar with Brockovich's story will know that her lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric will be successful.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: In Brazil, the movie has the subtitle Uma Mulher de Talento (A Woman of Talent).
  • Happily Married: A few throwaway lines of dialogue and some deleted scenes establish Ed and his never-seen wife as this.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Erin tends to flip out and fly off the handle at anything she perceives as an insult. And God help you if it was meant as an insult. Sometimes it comes in handy, such as when she tells off the PG&E lawyer offering a paltry $20 million settlement, but it's usually a problem, as evidenced by the fact that Ed has to all but beg her to keep her mouth shut at an important meeting.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Or rather, Hello Legal Assistant, in Erin's case.
  • Henpecked Husband: Or boyfriend, rather. Not until the end of the movie does George get an ounce of gratitude from Erin for taking care of her kids while she's at work.
  • Here We Go Again!: As the film ends, Erin is speaking with a potential plaintiff for a lawsuit against PG&E over contamination near a plant in Kettleman Hills, CA. They would reach a settlement of $335 million in 2006.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Brockovich. The movie portrays her as a tireless activist purely because it's The Right Thing To Do. It leaves out the fact that she was after a very sizable cut of the $333 million settlement as well and made millions of dollars that way... or at the least, it portrays this as a "happy side effect".
    • Her boyfriend George also. In the movie, he's just an all-around Nice Guy. In Real Life, shortly after the movie was released, he tried to blackmail her by threatening to tell the media that she was an unfit mother and that she and Ed had had an affair.
  • I Broke a Nail: Erin, right before her car gets T-boned at the start of the film.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!:
    Erin: They're called boobs, Ed.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: An anonymous caller threatening Erin to stop "snooping around the water board" addresses her as "Erin Pattee Brockovich". She accuses Ross (the clerk at the water board) of telling PG&E about her, because "No one calls me Pattee", whereas Ross looked at her name when she signed in during her first visit, and commented on it.
  • It's Personal:
    • Ed tries to discourage Erin from taking the case too personally. Erin counters that all the work she's put in and all the time she's spent away from her kids makes it personal.
    • Charles finally gets up the nerve to share what he knows with Erin after his cousin dies of multiple cancers, contracted while he worked at the Hinkley plant.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Averted. Over the course of her investigations, Erin comes to know every single one of the 600 or so residents of Hinkley, to the surprise of a couple of less-attached lawyers.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: PG&E's method of destroying the incriminating memos is to mix them in with stacks of unimportant documents and have a random employee shred them all at once. In the end it was unsuccessful - they never counted on the employee in question bothering to read what he was shredding.
  • Not in My Backyard!: One of the main reasons people find the story compelling.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Erin and Ed. Justified since Ed is married.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: We never actually see the final court ruling against PG&E, or the hearing that determines how much they have to pay out.
  • Oh, Crap!: Donna Jensen realizing her kids are swimming in contaminated water.
  • Only in It for the Money: Subverted by Ed when he and Erin explain that he'll receive 40% of the settlement from PG&E if they win; Erin assures the town that she had concerns about that distribution herself, until Ed clarified that if the lawsuit failed he wouldn't get any money either.
  • Oscar Bait: A Rags to Riches drama about a twice divorced, single mother that discovers that a multi-billion dollar corporation has contaminated the water of a small town.
  • Race Lift: The Real Life man on whom George is based on is Mexican-American.
  • Rags to Riches: Erin goes from having $16 in her bank account to landing a steady job, getting raise after raise, a $5,000 bonus plus a new car, and finally, a $2 million check. The citizens of Hinkley count too. Although the way the PG&E settlement money was distributed is not known, it's likely that they're all better off financially then they were before.
  • Real-Person Cameo: The real Erin Brockovich plays a waitress (lampshaded, as the waitress's name tag is "Julia").
    • Judge Le Roy A. Simmons, the actual judge that presided over the arbitration pre-trial hearing, came out of retirement to cameo as himself and gave the same decision.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Erin. The real Erin Brockovich admits on her website that this part of her portrayal is accurate: "Yes, I had a potty mouth in the movie and I still do."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There's an interesting but very different story about underhanded industry lawyers hiring gumshoes to illegally invade the privacy of common citizens, and a pair of lawyers with an uncomfortably close relationship to the arbitration judge.
    • The real Brockovich and her team of lawyers were also less than above board in how they distributed funds to the Hinkley residents (see here).
  • Water Source Tampering: PG&E tries to cover up the fact that they were poisoning the groundwater of Hinkley, California with Hexavalent Chromium, which resulted in most of the town suffering from severe illnesses, including cancer.
  • Wham Line: "Would it be important if, when I worked at the plant, I destroyed documents?"
  • Wham Shot: Erin's $2 million check.