A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, April 9, 2018

Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)

Albert Finney and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich: Julia Roberts
Ed Masry: Albert Finney
George: Aaron Eckhart
Brenda: Conchata Ferrell
Donna Jensen: Marg Helgenberger
Pete Jensen: Michael Harney
Pamela Duncan: Cherry Jones
Charles Embry: Tracey Walter
Kurt Potter: Peter Coyote
David Foil: T.J. Thyne
Theresa Dallavale: Veanne Cox

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Susannah Grant
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Production design: Philip Messina
Film editing: Anne V. Coates
Music: Thomas Newman

Any film that purports to be what the title character of Erin Brockovich calls a "David and what's-his-name" story is bound to be somewhat formulaic. But I can forgive Steven Soderbergh's movie for its clichés, such as the hunky next-door neighbor who provides Erin with sex and babysitting, or the starchy, tightly wound female lawyer who tries and fails to do the kind of work in signing up participants in the lawsuit that comes so naturally to Erin. We're asked to swallow a lot of narrative shortcutting in the relationship that she builds with Ed Masry, too. But it's to Julia Roberts's great Oscar-winning credit that she makes this fictionalized version of a real person (whom we see early in the film in the role of a waitress) as believable as she does, with the considerable help of the invaluable (but never Oscar-winning) Albert Finney. I've always thought that Soderbergh is undermined by his choice of material: Traffic, which came out the same year as Erin Brockovich and won an Oscar for Soderbergh, is weakened by the difficulty of cramming so many interlocking stories into the confines of a feature film, and it too suffers from some formulaic plotting. But Erin Brockovich makes the case for the feel-good movie with its director's obvious delight in providing a showcase for such skilled actors. This is what makes his Ocean's movies (20001, 2004, 2007) and Magic Mike (2012) so entertaining. Would a grittier approach with less charismatic stars have done a better job of telling the story of Brockovich and Masry's fight with PG&E? Yes, probably. But there's something to be said for good things in glossy packages.

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