Starring: John Travolta, Robert Duvall, John Lithgow, William H Macy, Kathleen Quinlan, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry
Director: Steven Zaillian
Cynical personal injury lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta), noramlly backs away from any case where he is not sure he can win. When a distressed mother (Quinlan) asks him to take on a case involving the death of eight children from lukemia in a small town, Schlichtmann says he is not interested. But when he realises that there is a case to be made for local industries polluting the water and causing the children’s death, he decides to take on two large organisations and their respective highly-educated lawyers (Duvall and Norris). Struggling for resources and support, Schlichtmann goes against his usual principals and embraces new ones, but these might cost him his career and reputation.
Apparently based on a true story, “A Civil Action” is at times a taut and insightful look into high-powered legal politics and principals. Travolta plays a typical cut-throat ‘show me the money’ lawyer whose inferiority complex regarding his modest education, comes to the fore during the biggest case of his career. Eager to prove he can cut it in the big-time, he pursues the big corporations through the courts rather than accept a settlement, as he normally does.
He performs as well as you would expect but is often outshone by Quinlan’s realistic portrayal of a grieving mother and James Gandolfini’s righteous employee who wants to see justice done. As expected, Duvall’s portrayal of the self-confident and ultra-clever opposition lawyer is a treat and the likes of William H Macy and John Lithgow do not disappoint either.
It doesn’t strike me as a movie that matches it’s billing (the greatest legal thriller of all time), but it is fulfilling enough to be worth watching.