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
Academy Award.-nominated actress Julia Roberts (1990, Best Actress, Pretty Woman) stars in this compelling drama directed by Oscar.-nominated Steven Soderbergh (1989, Best Writer, Sex, Lies and Videotape). Twice-divorced mother Erin (Roberts) struggles to be taken seriously. When working as a file clerk in a small law firm, she stumbles upon a cover-up involving contaminated water in a nearby town. Through sheer determination, she convinces her boss to investigate, and in the process, uncovers the culprit. Although the local citizens are initially leery of becoming involved, Erin's brash manner and ability to speak to them clearly earns their trust. With over 600 plaintiffs signed up, the trial results in the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action suit.