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A Civil Action


A successful Boston law firm takes on a case where several children in a small Massachusetts community have died due to groundwater contamination. Steven Zaillian’s second movie as a director was based on actual events in the 1980s. Taking this case is a bold move for John Travolta’s slick attorney who is unexpectedly moved by it to the degree that he ends up betting his whole firm in the process. He’s good in that role, but Robert Duvall is even better, highly amusing as a dangerous opponent one could easily underestimate. The film is well directed and exciting without resorting to cheap Grisham thrills.

1998-U.S. 115 min. Color. Produced by Rachel Pfeffer, Robert Redford, Scott Rudin. Written and directed by Steven Zaillian. Book: Jonathan Harr. Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall. Cast: John Travolta (Jan Schlichtmann), Robert Duvall (Jerry Facher), Tony Shalhoub (Kevin Conway), William H. Macy, Zeljko Ivanek, Bruce Norris… John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Sydney Pollack, Dan Hedaya, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry. Cameo: Kathy Bates.

Trivia: Will Smith and Marlon Brando were reportedly considered for roles.

Last word: “The film took a toll on me. Was it too much? It was definitely in the ballpark. I couldn’t do two ‘Civil Actions’ back to back. But just like Jan Schlichtmann was asked at the end of the movie, ‘If you had to do it all over again, would you?’ I would. Just not two in a row.” (Travolta, Sun-Sentinel)



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