A Civil Action (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes

A Civil Action (1998)



Critic Consensus: Intelligent and unconventional.

A Civil Action Trailers & Photos

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


John Travolta
as Jan Schlichtmann
Robert Duvall
as Jerome Facher
Dan Hedaya
as John Riley
Zeljko Ivanek
as Bill Crowley
eljko Ivanek
as Bill Crowley
John Lithgow
as Judge Walter J. Skin...
William H. Macy
as James Gordon
Kathleen Quinlan
as Anne Anderson
Tony Shalhoub
as Kevin Conway
Bruce Norris
as William Cheeseman
Kathy Bates
as Judge (uncredited)
Sydney Pollack
as Al Eustis
Mary Mara
as Kathy Boyer
David Thornton
as Richard Aufiero
Ned Eisenberg
as Uncle Pete
Peter Jacobson
as Neil Jacobs
Margot Rose
as Donna Robbins
Daniel von Bargen
as Mr. Granger
Caroline Carrigan
as Evelyn Love
Paul Desmond
as Shalline
Tracy Miller
as Grace Worker
Paul Hewitt
as Grace Worker
Clayton Landey
as Grace Worker
Paul Ben-Victor
as Pasqueriella
Elizabeth Burnette
as Lauren Aufiero
Alan Wilder
as Insurance Lawyer
Gregg Joseph Monk
as Insurance Lawyer
Harout Beshlian
as Insurance Lawyer
Josh Pais
as Law Clerk
Haskell Vaughn Ander...
as Courtroom No. 7 Cler...
Kaiulani Lee
as Mrs. Granger
Howie Carr
as Radio Talk Show Host
Pearline Fergerson
as Court Clerk
Scott Weintraub
as PI Lawyers
Robert Cicchini
as PI Lawyers
Christopher Stevenso...
as Insurance Plaintiff
Kevin Fry
as Waiter
Rikki Klieman
as T.V. Reporter
David Barrett
as Teenager on Property
Ryan Janis
as Teenager on Property
Rob McElhenney
as Teenager on Property
Mike Biase
as Market Clerk
Richard Calnan
as Woburn Traffic Cop
Gene Wolande
as Hotel Clerk
Sam Travolta
as Grace Attorney
Gregg Shawzin
as Reporter
Juli Donald
as Reporter
Sayda Alan
as Reporter
Bruce Holman
as Federal Marshall
John La Fayette
as Geologist
Charles Levin
as Geologist
Byron Jennings
as Geologist
Jay Patterson
as Geologist
Charlie Stavola
as Detective
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for A Civil Action

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

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