Oscar Actors: Roberts, Julia in Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts won the Oscar in 2000 for the biopic Erin Brockovich¬†at her third nomination. She was previously nominated in the supporting league for “Steel Magnolias,” in 1988, and in the lead category for “Pretty Woman,” in 1990.

One of the 2000 Best Picture nominees was Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Though based on a true story, the film feels familiar from previous corporate-malfeasance thrillers, such as “Norma Rae” and “A Civil Action,” with the expected benevolent messages about corporate malfeasance, self-esteem, and place of women in society.

A lone-justice crowd-pleasers, like “Norma Rae” and “Silkwood,” in 1979 and 1983, respectively, “Erin Brockovich” paid tribute to a working class woman, who dares to fight the system because she’s too stubborn or naive to know otherwise.

Assigned to do some routine paperback, Erin (Julia Roberts at her sexiest) stumbles upon a hidden epidemic: Dozens of residents near Hinkley have fallen victim to tumors, degenerative organs and other afflictions. Predictably, the ills are caused by Pacific Gas and Elecrtic, the industrial plant on the edge of town. They have employed a deadly form of chromium as an antitrust agent, thereby contaminating water supply.

Who in 2000 will disagree with the anti-Big Business message of “Erin Brockovich” a well-made biopicture centering on a working-class woman, a classic American underdog who with feisty determination and commitment to the cause, triumphed against all odds, not only the corrupt company but also against the wish of her initially reluctant and hesitant boss (played by Albert Finney).

In its crowd-pleasing qualities and bravura star performance by Julia Roberts, “Erin Brockovich” offers a similar message–and emotional pleasure-that “Norma Rae,” Martin Ritt’s 1979 biopicture had, a picture that earned Sally Field her first Best Actress Oscar.

Several critics noted the feminist fairytale nature of Susannah Grant’s sharp but manipulative scenario, which turned a Norma Rae type of heroine into the protagonist of Steve Zaillian’s “A Civil Action,” albeit without the gloomy mood and defeated results of the latter film, which predictably was a commercial flop.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 5

Picture, produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, and Stacey Sher
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay (Original): Susannah Grant
Actress: Julia Roberts
Supporting Actor: Albert Finney
Oscar Awards: 1

Actress

Oscar Context

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” competed for the Best Picture with Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Gladiator,” which won, two Soderbergh’s films, “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic,” and the schmaltzy romantic drama “Chocolate,” which was the weakest, artistically.