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A Civil Action

The movie A Civil Action was based on the book A Civil Action.

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Movie details for A Civil Action

The movie was released in 1998 and directed by Steven Zaillian, who also directed Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). A Civil Action was produced by Walt Disney Video. More information on the movie is available on Amazon.com and also IMDb.

Actors on this movie include John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, Zeljko Ivanek, Bruce Norris, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Peter Jacobson, Mary Mara, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry, Dan Hedaya, David Thornton, Sydney Pollack, Ned Eisenberg, Margot Rose, Daniel von Bargen, Caroline Carrigan and Paul Desmond (II).

 

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Jonathan Harr's nonfiction bestseller was a shot in the arm for those seeking more than last-minute heroics akin to a John Grisham thriller. Here was a labyrinthine case involving industrial pollution by two highly regarded corporations, contaminated dri... Read More
Jonathan Harr's nonfiction bestseller was a shot in the arm for those seeking more than last-minute heroics akin to a John Grisham thriller. Here was a labyrinthine case involving industrial pollution by two highly regarded corporations, contaminated drinking water, and the deaths of innocent children in New England, circa 1981. The case has hundreds of twists and takes our hero--a steady, respectable lawyer named Jan Schlichtmann--and turns his life into personal disaster. Instead of celebrating the law, the story is a maddening and rewarding look at the elusiveness of the courtroom case.

Steven Zaillian, who won an Oscar for adapting Schindler's List and directed Searching for Bobby Fischer, boils Harr's 502-page book into a complete, satisfactory film experience. Book readers will no doubt jeer the streamlining Zaillian had to perform to make the movie flow. Most changes can be quickly defused with the exception of the film's portrait of Schlichtmann. The lawyer has been turned into a movie star, an ultra-slick, cold-hearted gentleman who finds his purpose in working the case. Casting a stalwart John Travolta again diverges from the book, which right from the opening pages showed us a Schlichtmann with feet of clay. As Schlichtmann's partners (including William H. Macy and Tony Shalhoub) descend into the case, the unbridled sense of power and money is abandoned. This case is ultimately about survival.

Zaillian provides an excellent narrative for the sordid facts of personal injury suits, in which money is the only reward for lost or broken lives (deftly introduced in the film's opening scene). Zaillian also stays away from dwelling on the illness of the children involved, focusing on the gaunt faces of the parents who survive (Kathleen Quinlan, James Gandolfini) in controlled anguish. His evil characters--an industrial plant's owner (Dan Hedaya) and a corporate lawyer (another fine acting spin by director Sydney Pollack)--are so human it's terrifying. Zaillian's final ace in the hole is Oscar-nominee Robert Duvall. Perfectly cast as Travolta's opposition, Jerome Facher, Duvall steals scenes with the abbreviated dialogue; he turns a fancy settlement meeting into a farce with one line. Facher is not a callous, love-to-hate-him lawyer like James Mason in The Verdict. Facher represents the law at its brilliant foundation: to best represent one's client. With a taped-together briefcase and dry humor, Facher, not Schlichtmann, is the character who captures us by the film's end. --Doug Thomas

Book details for A Civil Action

A Civil Action was written by Jonathan Harr. The book was published in 1995 by Vintage. More information on the book is available on Amazon.com.

 

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In America, when somebody does you wrong, you take 'em to court. W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had been dumping a cancer-causing industrial solvent into the water table of Woburn, Massachusetts, for years; in 1981, the families of eight leukemia victims ... Read More
In America, when somebody does you wrong, you take 'em to court. W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had been dumping a cancer-causing industrial solvent into the water table of Woburn, Massachusetts, for years; in 1981, the families of eight leukemia victims sued. However, A Civil Action demonstrates powerfully that--even with the families' hotshot lawyers and the evidence on their side--justice is elusive, particularly when it involves malfeasance by megacorporations. Much of the legal infighting can cause the eyes to glaze. But the story is saved by great characters: the flawed, flamboyant Jan Schlichtmann and his group of bulldogs for the prosecution; Jerome Facher, the enigmatic lawyer for Beatrice, who proves to be more than a match; John J. Riley, the duplicitous, porcine tannery owner; and a host of others. It's impossible not to feel the drama of this methodical book, impossible not to grieve for the parents who lost children, and impossible not to share Schlichtmann's desperation as he runs out of money. A Civil Action reads like one long advertisement for a few well-placed Molotov cocktails. (But that wouldn't make for a very long book, now would it?)