A Civil Action Movie Review

The best actor nominees for the 1998 Academy Awards will probably be Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Ian McKellan, Nick Nolte and a wild card. Edward Norton or Jeff Bridges should fill this wild card (for American History X and The Big Lebowski) but that won't happen. Instead, take a look at John Travolta in A Civil Action.

Travolta plays personal injury lawyer Jan Schlichtmann, a greedy bloodsucker of a lawyer (not a new concept but still a fun one) who in his first scene is heard talking about which is better, a dead black or a dead white. A dead cripple or a dead child? He gives that voice over with such a subtle coldness that you know you're in for a good story.

The film follows a trial of 12 dead kids who got leukemia possibly from contaminated drinking water that was polluted by two major food companies. Schlichtmann accepts this case only for the opportunity of a big payoff. He says earlier on in the film "A lawyer who feels compassion for his client is worse than a doctor who recoils at the sight of blood". Schlichtmann lives by this code and in one scene, you can see how he grows humanity while at the death site of one of the victims.

Rounding out the cast is Robert Duvall who plays the lawyer for one of the food companies. He starts out quirky and eccentric until the trial starts and we see how that was just a way of making Schlichtmann underestimate him. John Lithgow plays the strict but fair judge, William H. Macy (in another great performance) as Schlichtmann's associate, and James Gandolfini of TV's The Sopranos as one of the workers who gives key testimony.

A Civil Action is a little slow but it works. It works because the characters are developed well, the acting is great and it uses real drama to get you to try to relate. Travolta is once again convincing and powerful and plays Schlichtmann with such arrogance (in one scene he gets a speeding ticket, and then another one in the same spot on the way back) that it's hard get sucked in to his role. Watch the movie before you read the book.

Lithgow says: "I'm this many!"


A Civil Action Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 1998


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