A Civil Action

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director/Writer:Steven Zaillian
Buena Vista; PG–13; 113 minutes
Cast:John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, Zeljko Ivanek, Bruce Norris, Kathleen Quinlan, Peter Jacobson, and Mary Mara
Based on the novel by Jonathan Harr

Imagine fine acting without character development in a courtroom drama without the suspense and you'll have A Civil Action. The film pits John Travolta against Robert Duvall as soulless lawyers battling the real-life case of a Massachusetts community whose residents were poisoned by industrial waste in their water supply. Awakened to the case by the call of money, Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) somehow undergoes a deep transformation until he is ready to risk everything in a struggle to gain reparation for a mother whose son has contracted leukemia because of the tainted water. How, exactly, this shift comes about is largely unexplored. The movie seems much more interested in documenting minutiae of the personal-injury lawyer, a savage and snappish species best left undisturbed in the scum pond. This may be accomplished screenwriter Steve Zaillian's (Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fischer) first movie which does not delight with unexpected turns and graceful dramatic unfolding.

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