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acivilaction.jpg (76232 bytes)

A Civil Action
Starring John Travolta and Robert Duvall
Written for the screen by Steven Zaillian
Based on the book by Jonathan Harr
Directed by Steven Zaillian
website: www.acivilaction.com

IN SHORT: Finally, a great end of the year wannabe flick. [Rated PG-13 ]

Cranky had been ready to hang it up on this year's Oscar race. Nothing I've seen in the last month (and trust me, I've seen way too much) has made any impact on me the way Steven Zaillian's A Civil Action has. Based on a true story (aren't they all) of a Boston personal injury lawyer whose self-confidence (and utterly successful settlement rate) was the selling point of his firm. In voiceover, lawyer Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) explains personal injury law to you, in clear and frank terms almost identical to the way my personal injury lawyer explained them to me (see the history page if you don't believe me).

Jan Schlichtmann is a Boston celebrity of sorts. Successful. Well dressed. Porsche car and a listing on the "most eligible bachelor" list. While preening on an AM talk show, Schlichtmann is publicly embarrassed by a client he didn't know he had. Her name is Anne Anderson (Kathleen Quinlan) and her son, and seven others in her immediate neighborhood have died. Anderson wants to know why. She wants an apology from whoever poisoned the water table (the assumed cause). Schlichtmann wants to pass on this "orphan" (a case lawyer's pass on because there is no way to make money) but his partner Kevin Conway (Tony Shalhoub) has committed the firm. Schlichtmann tries to worm out but something catches his eye and, before you know it, two major companies (W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods) are being sued and Schlichtmann's firm is $2 millions in the hole.

A Civil Action is nothing like the standard John Grisham us versus them lawyer tale. It is a brilliantly acted tale, on all levels, best summed up in the old adage "pride goes before a fall­. Zaillian's adaptation of the book which documented the original case leads you through investigation, discovery, negotiations, and more importantly builds strong characters to watch as they fall apart or weave a legal web. Chief among these are William H. Macy as the partner who has to find the money to support the case (before the payoff comes in) and Robert Duvall as the opposing lawyer who appears to be a doofus, but who is as wily as a fox. Adding to the mix is another fine performance (no surprise here) from Tony Shalhoub.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his A Civil Action, he would have paid...

$7.00

A Civil Action has definitely made Cranky's Best Of List. Travolta gives a second nomination calibre performance (Primary Colors was the first, but that still took 20 minutes to separate itself from the real life character who is always in the news. Not for a second in A Civil Action do you think "well, that's John Travolta doing Jan Schlichtmann..." If a nomination comes, it'll come for this one). And keep your eyes open for an uncredited cameo by Kathy Bates.

Click to buy A Civil Action on vhs or dvd
Click to buy films by John Travolta
Click to buy films starring Robert Duvall
Click to buy films starring William H. Macy

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The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is Copyright © 1995  -  2015   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.