A Civil Action (1998)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Intelligent and unconventional.

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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:
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
Touchstone

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Cast

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

All Critics (68) | 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
Variety
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 8, 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 13, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Schlichtmann may have gone through this conversion in real life, but I just didn't buy it the way Zaillian presents it.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
CNN.com
Top Critic

I'm all for films that don't flow from the usual Hollywood test tubes, but A Civil Action is basically the standard formula with a dash of downbeat.

December 31, 1999
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic

A slick, shameless job that takes way too long to make its point (namely, we need the EPA).

December 31, 1999
Village Voice
Top Critic

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
Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

½

Ok Court drama.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith

Super Reviewer

½

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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