A Civil Action (1998)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

USA, 1998.  , Paramount Pictures, Wildwood Enterprises, Scott Rudin Productions.  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the book by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

True story of a small law firm that takes on a giant corporation when it is suspected that a tannery has been allowing contaminants into the drinking water of a small town. John Travolta and an excellent William H. Macy are among the good guys who are constantly forced to come up with funding for their case but are blocked at every turn by the various ways the evil conglomerate finds to avoid having to take responsibility for their actions (which have allegedly resulted in many deaths).

Steven Zaillian directs assuredly and uses Conrad L. Hall’s wonderful photography well, but some audiences will be frustrated by the fact that this case was lost due not to an evil conspiracy among rich companies but by the idiocy on display from Travolta’s character: lawyer Jan Schlichtmann here acts with such loony self-confidence and goes against so many procedural norms that are basic training for any lawyer, that you just can’t root for his team no matter how much you want to. It is absorbing drama though, and Robert Duvall‘s colourful performance (in a role too peripheral to the story) livens up the joint quite a bit.

Academy Award Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall); Best Cinematography

Golden Globe Award NominationBest Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall)

Screen Actors Guild Award:  Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall)

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