A Civil Action

  • Film
  • Thrillers
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Steven Zaillian scripted Schindler's List, and wrote and directed Searching for Bobby Fischer. His follow-up is a legal thriller (from a book by Jonathan Harr) which ties itself in knots trying to do justice to a real-life case of toxic dumping. When flash Boston attorney Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) first hears about the suit brought by eight families whose kids have gone down with leukemia, he dismisses it as a lost cause. It's only when he stumbles across the big corporations behind the contamination that he changes his mind. His subsequent obsession with the case combines his better instincts and a gambler's vain determination to play for the highest stakes. Schlichtmann, then, is not a million miles away from Oskar Schindler, who also sought redemption with a healthy profit margin. Photographed with sober restraint by Conrad Hall, propelled by a literate, reflective voice-over, and expertly played by a first rate cast, the tone here is dispassionate, but sensitive. Zaillian only comes unstuck when he tries to break with the hackneyed showdown: delivering the verdict two thirds into the movie is anti-climactic, while Schlichtmann's belated atonement feels beside the point. Ironically, Duvall steals it with the hokiest role, as the formidable defence attorney.

Release details

Duration: 115 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Steven Zaillian
Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian
Cast: John Travolta
Robert Duvall
James Gandolfini
Dan Hedaya
John Lithgow
William H Macy
Kathleen Quinlan
Tony Shalhoub
Zeljko Ivanek
Stephen Fry

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Phillip Khan-Panni

A good film. Delivering the verdict well before the end ensured that it would not be the predictable. Travolta was believable and avoided his usual bleak stare into camera. And any film with Robert Duvall is arresting.