It may not seem like it at first glance, but 'Erin Brockovich' is clearly a Steven Soderbergh film. Many of his distinctive touches and his peculiar design are on full display in this biopic about the largest lawsuit settlement in US history. He brings his unique approach and often unorthodox aesthetic to what is expected to be a more traditional "David-and-Goliath courtroom drama." Working closely with cinematographer Ed Lachman, the photography is awash is sun-drenched yellows and oranges. The palette switches to a somewhat cold, light-bluish tone when head-honcho lawyers make an appearance, having viewers almost want to hiss and boo at them.
Probably the most telling aspect is Soderbergh's interest in seemingly simple, conventional stories and seeing him transform them into highly engaging ones. 'Contagion' and 'Haywire' are the obvious and most recent examples of his approach to filmmaking, seamlessly combining the spirit of independent invention with that of big-budget Hollywood. In 'Brockovich,' the story is a rather familiar tale, one which we've seen a thousand times and in a variety of ways — as well as in a variety of genres. A protagonist noses around some questionable legal issue and discovers foul play. Further pursuit of the matter, which borders on obsessive, endangers the stability of the family as well as their lives. But as routine as that sounds, Soderbergh molds it into the terrifically compelling tale of one's woman compassion for others going against the wrongs of a corporate giant.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have the talents of someone like Julia Roberts play the titular role. In her Oscar-winning portrayal of the real-life Erin Brockovich, Roberts does her best work since 'Pretty Woman.' She was great in 'Notting Hill' to be sure, but as the fiery, back-talking, unemployed single mother of three, she takes attractively spunky to an entirely new level. Beaming that radiant signature grin of hers at the right moments, she manages to win viewers on her side the instant we see her in the middle of botching a job interview. Brockovich is a tenacious character who's quick to speak her mind, but Roberts wins us over and has us championing her when things get tough.
Serendipity brings her determined personality to the doorstep of Ed Masry (Albert Finney), a lawyer and the only person willing to hire Brockovich as a file clerk, which he soon regrets on numerous occasions. Along with a great script from Susannah Grant ('The Soloist'), watching Finney and Roberts squabble back and forth, mostly because she overreacts to every trivial comment made at her, is a hilarious joy, making it a big part of its entertaining charm. Her scenes opposite Aaron Eckhart as Brockovich's Harley-loving boyfriend, George, are not quite as strong, but their conversations add that dramatic element showing how the job affects her personal life. So, in that respect, it's necessary. Best of all is seeing a single mother with no formal education go from a broke nobody to a formidable and respected legal clerk. She definitely earned my respect when she gives Theresa (Veanne Cox), a clerk from another firm, a piece of her mind.
Overlooking some minor liberties to true events, 'Erin Brockovich' is arguably one of Steven Soderbergh's finest films, owing much to the manner in which he brings the style of independent filmmaking to a large studio production. I'm sure many are likely to disagree, which is fine, but aside from the 'Ocean's' trilogy, what other movies are as compelling and easily accessible for wide audience consummation and still be uniquely his. It's also to the credit of Ms. Roberts that the film is a tremendous joy, displaying her flirtatious comedic side while flexing her dramatic chops within the same role. Soderbergh and Roberts make a winning combination as evidenced here, and the otherwise conventional courtroom drama continues to engage audiences with the real-life tale of one woman rallying a small community towards justice.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment releases 'Erin Brockovich' to Blu-ray as two-disc combo pack. Sitting on opposite panels, one is a Region Free, BD50 disc while the other is a DVD-9 copy of the movie. With a sleek and shiny slipcover that opens up on the front, the blue eco-lite packaging includes a pamphlet with a code for a Digital Copy download and information celebrating the studio's 100th anniversary. At startup, viewers go straight into the film, bypassing the usual main menu window. Those menu options can only be accessed while watching the movie by pressing the pop-up menu.
'Erin Brockovich' takes her case to the Blu-ray format with a generally attractive 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1), but unfortunately there are some minor discrepancies worth taking into account which may leave the jury questioning the legitimacy of the presentation.
On one hand, we have a picture quality that's true to the photographic intentions of cinematographer Ed Lachman and Soderbergh. Although the palette alternates a few times with a bluish tint, the overall tone has a strong yellow and orange push. Colors, however, are not affected greatly, looking bold and cleanly rendered from beginning to end. Facial complexions appear healthy with lots of revealing texture. Except for several glaring hotspots in the image, which are also deliberate, contrast is consistent and comfortably bright. Black levels are true and deep, with only one or two instances in which they falter just a tad while shadow details remain superbly perceptible.
Definition and clarity are also quite excellent, making this high-def transfer a night-and-day improvement over its DVD counterpart. Everything looks very sharp and terrifically detailed, but the problem we have is in how often it seems unnatural. There are many instances where the application of artificial sharpening is apparent, and every once in a while, we can detect evidence of edge enhancement around the edges of certain objects. It may not be enough to completely ruin the presentation, but it's pretty noticeable nonetheless and takes away from what could have been an exceptional upgrade.
On the audio front, things don't exactly improve by any significant degree, but the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is still quite good and highly enjoyable.
Being a character and dialogue driven film, the design is expectedly front-heavy, with all the focus and attention placed squarely on the conversations. In this respect, the high-rez track delivers marvelously with intelligible and well-intonated vocals. Imaging does have its moments as well, broadening the soundfield with several convincing off-screen effects. It provides the lossless mix an attractive sense of presence that's very welcoming and with a great deal of warmth. The mid-range and acoustics are equally excellent, and bass adds some strong depth to certain scenes. This is most apparent in Thomas Newman's original score, cleanly distinguishing between the upper frequencies and the low-end. Rear activity is generally silent though it never becomes much of a noticeable issue, making this a great track for an engaging bio drama.
The same set of supplements from the previous HD DVD and DVD are ported over for this latest home video release.
Steven Soderbergh's 'Erin Brockovich' is a thoroughly compelling courtroom drama based on the true battle against a multi-billion dollar corporation. While Soderbergh makes a conventional David-and-Goliath story into an absorbing motion picture, Julia Roberts comes out the winner with one of her finest performances as the real-life Brockovich. Although showing some minor annoyances in the picture, the Blu-ray arrives with a generally good audio and video presentation and a decent set of supplements, making this a package fans will likely find satisfying. Recommended.