A Civil Action (1998)



Critic Consensus: Intelligent and unconventional.

Movie Info

Based on a true story about a small-time, self-possessed personal-injury attorney whose greed entangles him in a case that threatens to destroy him. The Woburn Case- which appears straightforward- instead evolves into a labyrinthine lawsuit of epic proportions where truth, if it can be found at all, resides not in the courtroom, but buried deep in a network of deceit and corruptions.

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Steven Zaillian
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 13, 1999


as Jan Schlichtmann

as Jerome Facher

as John Riley

as Bill Crowley

as Bill Crowley

as Judge Walter J. Skin...

as James Gordon

as Anne Anderson

as Kevin Conway

as William Cheeseman

as Judge (uncredited)

as Al Eustis

as Kathy Boyer

as Richard Aufiero

as Uncle Pete

as Neil Jacobs

as Donna Robbins

as Mr. Granger

as Evelyn Love

as Shalline

as Grace Worker

as Grace Worker

as Grace Worker

as Pasqueriella

as Lauren Aufiero

as Insurance Lawyer

as Insurance Lawyer

as Insurance Lawyer

as Law Clerk

as Courtroom No. 7 Cler...

as Mrs. Granger

as Radio Talk Show Host

as Court Clerk

as PI Lawyers

as PI Lawyers

as Insurance Plaintiff

as Waiter

as T.V. Reporter

as Teenager on Property

as Teenager on Property

as Teenager on Property

as Market Clerk

as Woburn Traffic Cop

as Hotel Clerk

as Grace Attorney

as Reporter

as Reporter

as Reporter

as Federal Marshall

as Geologist

as Geologist

as Geologist

as Geologist

as Detective
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for A Civil Action

Friend Ratings

No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.


Critic Reviews for A Civil Action

All Critics (70) | Top Critics (15)

Based on a true story, this is an intelligent legal thriller, very much in the mode of 1970s issue-oriented films, that may be too subtle and complex for the damands of today's market.

Full Review… | June 1, 2006
Top Critic

Delivering the verdict two thirds into the movie is anti-climactic, while Schlichtmann's belated atonement feels beside the point.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

As proficient a job as writer-director Steve Zaillian and his team do, A Civil Action has unmistakably unraveled by its close.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

This is a case in which the material really is better served in book form.

Full Review… | November 22, 2009
TV Guide's Movie Guide

The movie becomes one more David-and-Goliath morality play.

Full Review… | July 30, 2007

While Travolta is passable as Schlichtmann, it is the outstanding work from Duvall, Macy and briefly Tony Shalhoub that drive the story.

Full Review… | December 6, 2005
Film Threat

Audience Reviews for A Civil Action

"Schindler's List" scribe Steven Zaillian seems to craft meticulous pieces of work. It's hard to put into words but his films seem to have substance. He doesn't try to cut corners, which is precisely his downfall here. There's too much weight that, despite an excellent beggining, it gets bogged down and ultimately hoisted by it's own petard.
A group of parents, whose children have died via pollution, enlist Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta), a hot-shot ambulance chasing lawyer to fight their case against two huge corporations. But Schlichtmann soon realises that he may have met his match in opposing lawyer, Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall), with defeat possibly spelling financial ruin for him and his firm.
This was only Zaillain's second film behind the camera and although there's much to admire, he still has much to learn. The problem he has, is with the pace. It was the same mistake he made later with his star studded "All the Kings Men". He has amassed an abundance of quality actors fleshed them out with substantial characterisations, yet they don't get a chance to shine. There is too much legal jargon going on for any of them to leap to the forefront. Duvall and Travolta duel with the viewers delight but the impressive supporting ensemble are wasted. Still, it's a cut above a John Grisham adaptation and if you don't mind a bit of legal mumbo jumbo and consider yourself a fan of slow talking legal drama's, then this will certainly appeal.
Based on a true story and treads a similiar path that "Erin Brockovich" would tread a couple of years later. I'd have to say that the Steven Soderbergh/Julia Roberts film is the better of the two though.

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer


Ok Court drama.

Jeremy Smith

Super Reviewer


A disappointingly pulse-less legal drama that features an incredibly dull lead performance from John Travolta, despite the rest of the cast being fairly on their game. The main problem that undermines the film is the fact that the startling transformation that Travolta's character undergoes does not for one minute feel genuine. Despite this film being based on a true story, it's both the script's and Travolta's fault for not spending more time on why this character changed so suddenly and gave up so much. Instead, it gives us a brief two minute scene to convince us, which it doesn't, and instead goes full-steam ahead with the case when it hasn't even achieved a firm grasp of the basic fundamentals that make these sort of films compelling or watchable. That said, it's not a bad movie, everything else is relatively well done, but the fact that I didn't believe for one second in Travolta's character is what brought it down to "not so great" territory for me.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

A Civil Action Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

Discussion Forum

Discuss A Civil Action on our Movie forum!