A lone woman, armed only with indomitable sass and her native wit, goes up against the corporate big boys and beats the bejesus out of them. As a story line it's hardly new, but Steven Soderbergh's film keeps it exhilaratingly fresh and lively--thanks not least to his lead actress. Seizing the role of the smart, mouthy, aggressively working-class Erin Brockovich with both hands, Julia Roberts gives it everything she's got and then some. She's well matched by Albert Finney as her grouchy but good-hearted boss and Aaron Eckhart as a sympathetic biker. The story's based--by all accounts fairly closely--on actual events, when the real Erin (who appears briefly in the film as a kindly waitress) brought a massive lawsuit against utilities giant Pacific Gas and Electric for spreading toxic pollution. Rather than confine the action to courtroom shenanigans, Soderbergh takes us out under Southern California's pitiless skies and along the dirt-poor roads where most of PG&E's blue-collar victims live, letting us feel the ground-down exhaustion of their lives. But though it's rooted in reality, the film's anything but solemn. The script's sharp and funny, full of unexpected twists; and Roberts, flaunting herself outrageously in an eye-popping array of push-up bras and micro-miniskirts, has never been better. --Philip Kemp
Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a brassy, unemployed, twice-divorced single mother. When she is injured in a motor accident and her lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), fails to win her any compensation, her solution is to insist that Ed provides recompense by employing her at his firm. Erin's new colleagues do not take her seriously at first, but when she discovers a cover-up by a water company who have been poisoning the local community, she and Ed set out to win the victims a multi-million settlement. Based on a true story; Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her performance in the title role and the real Erin Brockovich also appears briefly in the film as a waitress.