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A Civil Action

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: A Civil Action

Starring: John Travolta, Robert Duvall
Director: Steven Zaillian
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genres: Drama, Thriller

*Also starring: Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Peter Jacobson, Sydney Pollack, Zeljko Ivanek

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Review by Susan Granger
2½ stars out of 4

Adapted from Jonathan Harr's 1995 non-fiction best-seller, this is a deadly serious legal thriller - it's also a deadly bore. John Travolta sleepwalks through the role of Jan Schlictmann, an egotistical, high-stakes, personal-injury attorney who suddenly becomes virtuous and loses his custom-made shirt when he sues two corporations for dumping toxic waste which may have polluted the water supply and, in turn, caused cancer-related deaths in eight families in a small town outside of Boston. When we first meet Schlictmann, he's driving a sleek black Porche and reveling in minor celebrity. Guesting on a radio talk show, he's confronted by a client (Kathleen Quinlan) whose letters he has ignored. She's the distraught mother of a young boy who died of leukemia and represents seven other children in one neighborhood who met a similar fate. But when Schlictmann discovers that two major companies (W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods) may be the culprits, he gleefully proclaims, "This is a gold mine!" Greedily, he accept the case which, eventually, drives his firm into bankruptcy. Written and directed by Steven Zaillian, who wrote "Schindler's List," it's issue-oriented, earnest and decent, filled with righteous indignation about social injustice. Unfortunately, it's not very entertaining - except for Robert Duvall's superbly nuanced performance as a crafty corporate counsel, Sydney Pollock's turn as a snobbish executive, and an uncredited cameo by Kathy Bates. Why does it miss the mark? Because we have no emotional investment in Travolta's morally ambiguous character. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "A Civil Action" is a bleak, stilted 6, proving that no good deed goes unpunished.

Copyright 2000 Susan Granger

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