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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Honest Hollywood Adaptation, For Once!
No, this film is not "based on a true story" or the cringe-inducing "inspired by a true story" (the latter which can mean anything, and usually does)--the fact is, this film IS a true story. It is the true story of how a materialistic personal injury lawyer pursues a noble yet unwieldly case, at the cost of all the materialistic benefits that he had...
Published on October 23, 2003 by Robert J. Schneider

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Far from great, but some great performances help keep the audience satisfied...
I'll be completely honest here. I saw `A Civil Action' because I am in love with James Gandolfini. Sadly his character has very little screen time although he is quite convincing with what he has to work with. What I found though was a nice little court room drama that is interesting as much as it is frustrating and deserves at least a little attention. This movie is...
Published on October 29, 2007 by Andrew Ellington


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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Honest Hollywood Adaptation, For Once!, October 23, 2003
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
No, this film is not "based on a true story" or the cringe-inducing "inspired by a true story" (the latter which can mean anything, and usually does)--the fact is, this film IS a true story. It is the true story of how a materialistic personal injury lawyer pursues a noble yet unwieldly case, at the cost of all the materialistic benefits that he had spent his entire career in creating for himself.
Yes, this case really did exist. Yes, there really was (and still is) a lawyer named Jan Schlichtmann (as portrayed by Travolta), who really did pursue this case against two large corporations, Beatrice and W.R. Grace (both named in the movie), who really did illegally dump pollutants in a neighborhood somewhere in Massachusetts, and which really did cause the deaths of 12 children from leukemia. Yes, Mr. Schlichtmann really DID comment cynically when he was first presented with the case, "I really don't see the value in a bunch of dead babies." There really was a corporate defense attorney named Jerome Facher (as portrayed by Duvall) who played this case as if constantly hedging his bets at a Vegas casino poker table. And so on...you get the idea.
This film is brutally honest, names names, pulls no punches...and forgoes the typical, traditional Hollywood-style happy ending for one that is completely real, unfabricated, and ultimately satisfying in the realization that, it too, is real. That doesn't mean that it is emotionally unsatisfying. After all, after investing nearly two hours with this case, and these characters, about which we grow to care completely (especially because we know they're real), this film does provide the payoff in the end. I just won't tell you which one; you have to see this brilliant film in order to find out.
This film proves, for once and for all, that the truth really is stranger than fiction!
MOST RECOMMENDED
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52 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but ultimately sad portrayal of an uncivil system, July 30, 2004
This review is from: A Civil Action [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Sometime in the late 1960's, a hideous act of pollution took place in Woburn, Massachusetts, a small town north of Boston. Over the next fifteen years, twelve people died of leukemia. Eight of those were children. The firm of Jan Schlichtmann, Kevin Conway, James Gordon, and Bill Crowley take on the case on behalf of Anne Anderson, a woman who lost her child to cancer. For her, money isn't the point. All she wants to know is what happened, and for the responsible parties to come over and apologize to her and the other families. Thing is, corporations apologize with money, and if the corporations have deep pockets, it's a case worth taking, so money does indeed become the point in A Civil Action.

Schlichtmann uncovers the culprits, a chemical company, WR Grace and Beatrice Foods, who provide services for a tanning company owned by Riley. With that, he files a lawsuit, the legal equivalent to a declaration of war, and hires a geological team to provide scientific evidence should it come to trial.

Jan then does a couple things that leads to his downfall. One, he gets personally involved. In a news broadcast, he holds up snaps of the Woburn kids who have died. He shows empathy, which is a grave disservice to the legal profession because it clouds his judgment. He says it's like a doctor recoiling at the sight of blood. That leads to his demanding of WR Grace and Beatrice Foods a multi-million dollar settlement, including money for a research foundation, to cover expenses, and to provide for the families for thirty years, which the corporations refuse, which in turn takes the case to trial. He does this without consulting his partners, which doesn't bode well. James Gordon, the accountant, points out that they need to work on other cases to provide a cash flow. Schlichtmann has sunken a million into the Woburn case, and pretty soon, they teeter on the waterfalls of insolvency to the point of mortaging their homes. It's become a source of pride, which has undone many an attorney as opposed to idiot witnesses, lousy evidence, and the hanging judge put together, as Jerome Fasher tells his law class.

Fasher, the attorney for Beatrice, is a statesman-like man of experience, but has a detached air coupled with some eccentricities. Yet he is a clever man, and his observation on the justice system is true, at times sickening. When Schlichtmann tells him he's searching for the truth, he tells him, "You've been around long enough to know that a courtroom's not the place to look for the truth." And he accurately says that the case stopped being about children the moment Schlichtmann filed for action.

The movie is sprinkled with legal commentary from Schlichtmann, which lays out how callous, ugly, and illogical the justice system is. He begins by talking about which types of clients are worth more, i.e. are winning cases. Whites are worth more than blacks, men more than women, a long agonizing death over a quick one. A white male professional in his 40's, in his prime, is worth the most. A dead child is worth least of all. Well, Schlichtmann finds out that children are worth something after all, especially when he imagines an agonizing scene where the LaFierros were taking their son to the hospital and died en route.

While John Travolta's best known for Grease and Saturday Night Fever, A Civil Action proves he can handle serious drama and he turns in one of his best ever performances. However, the real Jan Schlichtmann came to Farmington. He's close to seven feet tall, and in terms of resemblance, could've been played by Richard Gere. As Anne Anderson, Kathleen Quinlan is the other great performer, playing a woman changed through her ordeal into someone who has a tired and sad visage. The scene where Al Love (James Gandolfini), a conscience-stricken tannery employer personally apologizes to her shows that maybe the only real meaningful apologies come from humans, not corporations.

Trials and lawsuits are examples of how corrupt and rotten the legal system and some lawyers are. Is it worth having a system where the first party to come to their senses (i.e. to cut their losses and call for a settlement) is the loser? A Civil Action also shows that despite the need for compassion, it's better to have a lawyer who thinks more with the head than the heart.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and Compelling Courtroom Drama, March 9, 2004
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) is a Boston tort lawyer and something of an ambulance chaser who is initially reluctant to take on an industrial pollution case involving some children dead of leukaemia in rural New England. He changes his mind when he realizes the likely defendants are a couple of big companies with particularly deep pockets and smells the possibility of serious money. Over time, however his interest in the case becomes a moral obsession. The cynical becomes a crusader, refusing offers to settle as his company's finances spiral downwards towards bankruptcy.
If you like courtroom dramas, this is highly recommended. It's one of the best specimens of the genre to come out of America since `The Verdict'. It's interesting to compare it to `Erin Brockovich' released a couple of years later. EB is about how a heroic small timer takes on the big boys of corporate America and how her pluck and determination triumphs over all obstacles, something of a legal feelgood movie in other words. Which this, to its great credit, is not. Its central character, for starters, is far more amibivalently likeable: initially just out for a fast buck, moral seriousness has to creep up on him and take him by surprise (perhaps reminding writer/director Zaillian of Oskar Schindler whose story he scripted for Spielberg a few years earlier) and the story's development paints a significantly more ambivalent picture of what pluck and determination can accomplish. It's a highpoint of Travolta's acting career even if he is comprehensively upstaged by Robert Duvall, on brilliant form as his quietly cynical adversary, bigshot lawyer Jerome Facher who knows far better than to look for the truth in a courtroom...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Far from great, but some great performances help keep the audience satisfied..., October 29, 2007
By 
Andrew Ellington (I'm kind of everywhere) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
I'll be completely honest here. I saw `A Civil Action' because I am in love with James Gandolfini. Sadly his character has very little screen time although he is quite convincing with what he has to work with. What I found though was a nice little court room drama that is interesting as much as it is frustrating and deserves at least a little attention. This movie is by no means a brilliant film, but it does sport a few excellent performances that help elevate the plot and leave the audience at least satisfied with the overall effect of the film.

`A Civil Action' is based on a true story of the small town of Woburn Massachusetts where two large corporations through carelessness and negligence poisoned the drinking water thus resulting in the deaths of eight children. The town hires Jan Schlichtmann, a personal injury attorney, to find out what killed their children and get them an apology. Money is not important to them, but as Schlichtmann points out, money is how these corporations apologize. Jan, who was initially apposed to the case, becomes personally invested which, as he brings out, is the worst thing a lawyer can do. As he goes to battle with the lawyers for the two corporations, WR Grace and Beatrice Foods, it appears he may be in way over his head.

Where the movie shines is in interaction between Schlichtmann and rival lawyer Jerome Facher, thanks in large part to the performances by both Travolta and Duvall. John Travolta may play Schlichtmann almost a polar opposite to the actual man himself, but this to me helps aid the film along. Travolta is very cool and collected here, very polished and confident and that helps the audience feel drawn to him. He's going after what he believes in and no one will stop him and that is a very endearing or at least admirable quality. Robert Duvall is the perfect complement to Travolta here. He gives Facher so much charisma that the viewer can't keep their eyes and mind off of him. His performance is brilliantly executed and well deserving of the Oscar nomination.

Where the movie falters though is the one place I was really hoping that it would shine and that is of the aftermath of the events on the survivors. Don't get me wrong, the performances by the likes of Kathleen Quinlan and James Gandolfini are excellent and portray enough pain and even quilt but they are limited in their effectiveness because so much focus is shifted to the battle between lawyers. It would have been nice to have the focus more on the families and their struggle for answers. If this had been the focal point of the movie I think it would have transcended the average legal drama and become something much more.

The performances throughout are all commendable, not just those of Travolta, Duvall, Quinlan and Gandolfini. William H. Macy especially deserves some commendation. His portrayal of James Gordon is brilliant. John Lithgow is also exceptionally good as Judge Walter J. Skinner. He's very powerful, and that's not something I expected from him. Sydney Pollack is great in his cameo, no matter how small his scene is, and delivers with expert conviction and Dan Hedaya is very hate-worthy as the malicious and selfish John Riley. Tony Shalhoub and Zelijko Ivanek (who I just LOVED on `Damages') are sorely underused as Schlichtmann and Gordon's partners Kevin Conway and Bill Crowley; in fact I think I only heard Ivanek utter like two sentences.

In the end `A Civil Action' is one of those movies that will not disappoint but it will not outstand either. Aside from some on point acting it is truly a generic and formulistic film that has been done before, and better I might add, but it won't leave you wishing you hadn't wasted your time either. Watch this for the legal banter and brilliance that is Duvall but don't expect too much in regards to a real emotional drama for, like Schlichtmann advises, the audience is never really allowed to get personally invested.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tort lawyer finds new meaning in life and goes down the path of righteous litigation; An underdog against the large corp, February 19, 2008
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
(1) A Civil Action is a 1998 film, starring John Travolta (as plaintiff's attorney Jan Schlichtmann) and Robert Duvall, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Harr. Both the book and the film are based on the real-life case of Anderson v. Cryovac that took place in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s.

(2) John Travolta plays a tort lawyer part of tort law firm making millions from large corporations by filing personal injuries on behalf of their clients.

(3) He is intellectually attracted (seeing the the financial jackpot and oppurtunity to make millions for his firm and partners) to a case about a large corporation polluting the waters of a small town which incidentally shows a high rise of deaths due to cancer.

(4) Travolta law firm tries to proove that the deaths due the cancer of the many residents of that down were actually due to the consumption of the water from the river where the toxic waste from the company were dumped.

(5) In a surprising move , and totally against his nature he decides against taking a reasonably sizable sum of money as settlement (from the corporation) on behalf of the town dwellers to end the case there which would have left Travolta and his partners with sizable monies and would have also left his clients some money. But the clients are not after money, they are after truth and want justice to be served against the large corporation.

(6) The culprit in question are actually 2 companies of which Robert Duvall is the attorney for one of the companies.

(6) Having turned down the offer and having decided to go on the righteous route of litigations for justice and truth, he sinks his whole law firm into bankruptcy fighting the case; His partners leave him (one of whom is William H Macy)

(7) ' An underdog against the large corporation' film

I won't call it the best legal thriller of our times like the DVD jacket proclaims, but it is certainly an above par legal thriller churned out of Hollywood. Travolta surprisingly suits the role very well.

regards, Vikram
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Substantive Hero, October 31, 2006
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
Substantive: possessing substance; having practical importance, value, or effect: substantive issues under discussion.

It is rare for movies to have a story line based on a character, that not only experiences personal growth, but does so in heroic fashion. Travolta plays Schlichtmann, a typical bottom line lawyer type, who evolves into a man willing to stand on principle. As rare as such people are in real life, they seem just as rare in the movies. For those who seek more then just a temporary distraction, that most movies provide via action or special effects, this movie provides a story line with real depth.

A Civil Action is filled with big name actors, who all put in great performances. This is, a rare, exceptional movie.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I repeat >> snalen "snalen" ................., November 1, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
I copy and paste >> snalen "snalen" - (another reviewer's commentary here) who expressed it perfectly. "snalen" said:

Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) is a Boston tort lawyer and something of an ambulance chaser who is initially reluctant to take on an industrial pollution case involving some children dead of leukemia in rural New England. He changes his mind when he realizes the likely defendants are a couple of big companies with particularly deep pockets and smells the possibility of serious money. Over time, however his interest in the case becomes a moral obsession. The cynical becomes a crusader, refusing offers to settle as his company's finances spiral downwards towards bankruptcy.
If you like courtroom dramas, this is highly recommended. It's one of the best specimens of the genre to come out of America since `The Verdict'. It's interesting to compare it to `Erin Brockovich' released a couple of years later. EB is about how a heroic small timer takes on the big boys of corporate America and how her pluck and determination triumphs over all obstacles, something of a legal feelgood movie in other words. Which this, to its great credit, is not. Its central character, for starters, is far more amibivalently likeable: initially just out for a fast buck, moral seriousness has to creep up on him and take him by surprise (perhaps reminding writer/director Zaillian of Oskar Schindler whose story he scripted for Spielberg a few years earlier) and the story's development paints a significantly more ambivalent picture of what pluck and determination can accomplish. It's a highpoint of Travolta's acting career even if he is comprehensively upstaged by Robert Duvall, on brilliant form as his quietly cynical adversary, bigshot lawyer Jerome Facher who knows far better than to look for the truth in a courtroom...

And I add, a VERY entertaining and interesting movie with some redeeming social value, a very provacative movie that should inspire many 'thoughtful' viewers to an enlightened perspective ... that may not have ever been considered before!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Toxic Tort Lesson Hollywood Style, May 31, 2006
By 
Ben F. Small (Tucson, AZ, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
This movie tells part of the story, Hollywood style, of the Woburn contamination legal saga which took place in the eighties as a wave of toxic tort lawsuits were sweeping the nation. Trichloretylene (TCE), a common de-greaser, Toluene and some other chemicals were dumped after use or leaked through pipes and other sources into the public water supply including wells around Woburn, MA. A number of plaintiffs filed suit claiming an abnormal number of leukemia and other health related issues. This movie focuses on the hardships faced by the people and their lawyers as they fought against lying employees of large companies, crafty lawyers and insensitive judges. While some of the movie is true, as is often the case with a Hollywood dramatization of so-called true events, much has been left out of the story.

For one thing, the movie fails to mention the scientific controversy over whether in fact TCE is harmful at all. Indeed, TCE was once the decafinating agent of coffee and was used in dry cleaning processes. Other communities around the country faced similar exposure to TCE with no noted adverse health effects whatsoever. While Toluene, a nasty chemical with known adverse health effects, was also involved in Woburn, this movie focuses on TCE, a chemical sometimes compared by toxicologists to have similar health effects to peanut butter and red wine.

Robert Duvall, John Travolta and William H. Macy deliver outstanding performances in this movie. And while Hollywood may have over-dramaticized certain aspects of the case, Travolta's observations during narrative over dubs about trial processes in general are insightful and largely accurate. It's a good movie, even if one side is portrayed more sympathetically than the other. But then, that's Hollywood.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Acceptable loss, November 7, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: A Civil Action [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This book focuses on a narrow slice of the history of the problem in Woburn.
The introduction of this book also destroyed lives of which the general public is unfamiliar. One such life is Ken Grant, a former Grace employee charged with protecting the general public in the aftermath of Grace's controversial environmental history.
Grant worked as a safety & environmental professional who had worked for a couple of divisions of Grace. Grant was an active volunteer in many charities in Massachusetts and grew up as anunwanted youngster in state child care. As a young child Grant was crippled,abandoned and abused.
Grant lived in Woburn a number of years and in most all the neighborhoods where the earliest cases of leukemia arose, was treated at the same hospitals as those children and also appeared in court.
When this book came out, his medical records suddenly became unavailable, he was rousted from Grace and unable to get good references from Grace despite years of solid service. A long strong of strange events unfolded in which he began to research his hidden past and he was eventually driven into long term unemployment,bankruptcy and homelessness because no one would hire him in Massachusetts. All of this unfolded in the face of the fact that Grant was too young when the leukemia epidemic arose to know what was going on and was shuffled around so often as to keep his equilibrium off balance.As a child Grant was hospitalized long term and shuffled about.As an adult Grant was prevented from finding viable career stability. Amongst all this, no one involved with the book or movie spoke with him.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How much are you worth?, August 16, 2004
By 
Sebastian Fernandez (Tampa, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Civil Action (DVD)
This is one of those typical movies in which the greedy lawyer grows a conscience and starts out on a quest to defend the less privileged. But, even though the subject is not new, the way in which the story is presented and the performances by John Travolta, and especially Robert Duvall, make this a pretty good production anyhow.

Travolta plays Jan Schlichtmann, a successful lawyer that measures everything in terms of money, including the life of others. For example, the perfect victim / client for him is a white male professional in his forties, while the one that has the least worth is no other than a child! Jan is one of Boston's most eligible bachelors and is having a ball; he believes he is above everyone else and does not care about mundane events or tragedies that other people may suffer. One day though, he receives a call from a client while he is on a radio show on air, and has no other option but to follow through on the case; at least so as to look a little better in the public eye.

The case involves kids getting sick, and some dying, due to water wells contaminated with ethylene. Jan knows that since the victims are kids there is no real money in the case, so he is reluctant to take it. But when he is leaving town something catches his eye; the small tannery believed to be the culprit is owned by a huge company with various subsidiary companies, including the producer of Tropicana. From then on, we get to watch a typical David versus Goliath fight, which involves the lawyer with his limited team and funds and the huge corporation with unlimited resources and a very clever lawyer heading its case (Duvall).

The film does a great job in presenting the feelings and priorities of those injured by the negligence of a corporation. Often people think that money is everything in a civil trial, but this example shows that that is not always the case. Some of the characters evolve greatly during the story, understanding what is really important and what is superficial. For these reasons, the movie deserves an above average rating.
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A Civil Action
A Civil Action by Steven Zaillian (DVD - 1999)
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