A Civil Action

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Overview

Directed by Schindler's List screenwriter Steve Zaillian, this courtroom drama is based on a true story and non-fiction book by Jonathan Harr. The case revolves around an incident in 1979 in East Woburn, MA, where two drinking wells supplying water to the town were found to be contaminated with industrial solvents. When toxic waste was discovered later that year, suspicions arose that the local factories caused the pollution. The residents felt these companies were responsible for the unusually high rate of ...
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Overview

Directed by Schindler's List screenwriter Steve Zaillian, this courtroom drama is based on a true story and non-fiction book by Jonathan Harr. The case revolves around an incident in 1979 in East Woburn, MA, where two drinking wells supplying water to the town were found to be contaminated with industrial solvents. When toxic waste was discovered later that year, suspicions arose that the local factories caused the pollution. The residents felt these companies were responsible for the unusually high rate of leukemia deaths amongst the town's children. Anne Anderson Kathleen Quinlan, a mother who lost her son Jimmy to leukemia, fronts an effort to bring a lawsuit against the major conglomerates Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace & Co for their pollution crimes -- a heavy-duty problem, because these companies have the money to squash the less powerful citizens. Enter Jan Schlichtmann John Travolta, a personal injury lawyer whose small law firm is hired to sue these industrial giants for millions of dollars in damages. He's up against Jerome Facher Robert Duvall and William Cheeseman Bruce Norris, high-priced lawyers who represent the big companies. Most of the film takes place in the courtroom during the trial. It also features William H. Macy as Schlichtmann's accountant and John Lithgow as the judge.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Jason Clark
A respectable adaptation of a rather stuffy story, Steven Zaillian's account of a man who fought the law and the law won is never a bulls-eye, but has too many solid components to be written off as a misfire. Chief among them are John Travolta, sharp and nuanced as the head counsel, and especially Robert Duvall, who gives every scene he's in real bite. The storytelling is muddled at times, and the pacing is sometimes too lethargic, but Zaillian knows his way around the territory, and Conrad L. Hall's expert cinematography gives the film an elegant feel, especially for what is basically a highly-appointed courtroom drama. Perhaps its best attribute is that it is essentially a story about defeat rather than blind triumph, unusual for this genre to say the least. Even when it falls into legal clich├ęs, the film has a ring of truth, and compared with the thematically similar Julia Roberts starrer Erin Brockovich, it succeeds as a real-life chronicle because it retains a core of integrity, instead of succumbing to the status of star vehicle like Steven Soderbergh's 2000 release.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 2/1/2000
  • UPC: 786936091625
  • Original Release: 1998
  • Rating:

  • Source: Walt Disney Video
  • Format: VHS

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Travolta Jan Schlichtmann
Robert Duvall Jerome Facher
Tony Shalhoub Kevin Conway
William H. Macy James Gordon
Zeljko Ivanek Bill Crowley
Kathy Bates Judge (uncredited)
Bruce Norris William Cheeseman
John Lithgow Judge Skinner
Kathleen Quinlan Anne Anderson
Peter Jacobson Neil Jacobs
Sydney Pollack Al Eustis
James Gandolfini Al Love
Technical Credits
Steven Zaillian Director, Executive Producer, Screenwriter
David J. Bomba Art Director
Shay Cunliffe Costumes/Costume Designer
Tracy Doyle Set Decoration/Design
Danny Elfman Score Composer
Henry J. Golas Associate Producer
David Gropman Production Designer
Conrad L. Hall Cinematographer
Avy Kaufman Casting
David MacMillan Sound/Sound Designer
David McGiffert Associate Producer, Asst. Director
Rachel Pfeffer Producer
Robert Redford Producer
Mario Roberts Stunts
Scott Rudin Producer
Wayne Wahrman Editor
David Wisnievitz Executive Producer
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

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2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 16, 2013

    Woburn appears to be a sketchy place. A whole series of town re

    Woburn appears to be a sketchy place. A whole series of town records from the 1960s disappeared in a mysterious fire.Newspaper articles on microfilm are cropped or missing and it appears someone removed portions of articles to keep from researchers later on. Woburn also had a city budget that was INAUDITABLE! It is quite clear, having grown up in the general area all of my life, that what happened in Woburn was and still is classified and perhaps the water was deliberately tainted to mask a much larger event. I don't know the peron mentioned in prior reviews, but i think the reviewer calling the mentioned person mentally ill is totally out of line. If what the reviews claim are true, perhaps a major investigative journalist should get on it and perhaps what happened to Ken Grant might be a key to the many anomalies from that time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    A story behind the story

    In 1994 a man had a newspaper article published in the Woburn Advocate by Neil Zolot about his search to find out who his father is. Shortly after the newspaper changed hands and the new owners disavowed any knowledge of the prior staff. The man's medical records began disappearing and showing signs of lateration spanning 3 states and his bank accounts and phone lines and even video rental records came under scrutiny. The man was prevented from finding work while his work references blackballed him from finding work in Massachusetts. Prior to the article, the man had written a book manuscript,which among other things, mentioned his experiences as a sick young boy living in all the polluted areas in Woburn. Some caretakers of his as a young boy forwarded the book manuscript to United Talent Agency, Marty Bauer, who reviewed it and requested the man to adapt it to a movie screenplay. The man never heard the disposition of it and United Talent and the individuals (one of whom was an associate of Governor Paul Cellucci's campaign manager) ceased all contact with the man. Meanwhile, a woman who was associated with Dr. Peter Mencher, a forensic psychiatrist and doctor in the employ of Tufts health plan(Tufts was a key hospital in this water case)befriended the man and then systematically worked to destroy relationships that man had while suddenly traversing the country on impromptu unexplained trips. Dr. Mencher attempted to entrap the man into an office visit in which he was trying to have the man committed to a mental hospital, where he could be drugged, forgotten and hidden. The man is said to have been a child survivor of the Woburn water crisis and was a safety and environmental professional working for Grace Construction in Cambridge,Mass when he was suddenly let go for no apparent reason. Since that time, the man has been continuously maneuvered into employment in which government contracts(hence, government) and Grace are associated. In each of these environments the man has been continuously monitored and harassed. The man eventually was forced to work for Home Depot, where individuals using fake names come and go at will as has been detailed by management itself. It appears that the government itself has tried very hard to keep this individual out of the public eye

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    Much much more to this story not yet told!

    In 1965, a baby was dropped off to the Children's Hospital in Utica, NY by an unknown family from Little Falls, in the Adirondacks. The baby was admitted into what is now known as Faxton Hospital without an entry diagnosis and no family history. The child lived immobilized in a hospital bed with no visitors for over 2 years and is said to have been given a bone marrow transplant as part of a federal government study on experimental treatments for leukemia using poor children.The boy did not meet his mother until 4 1/2 years old and was taken,crippled in a full body wheelchair to Woburn,Massachusetts. In Woburn the boy lived in the same neighborhoods as the victims outlined in this book.The boy suffered extreme physical and emotional and sexual abuse until age 9 by numerous caretakers in Massachusetts while as a ward of the state. During this time the boy was denied any access to records which might have told him about his family and specifically his unknown father.The boy was treated at the same hospitals as the victims in this book and also appeared as a young boy of 4-5 years old in Woburn District court under Judge Cullen( who later refused the man access to public records of court proceedings he had been involved in).All while the growing boy was shuffled around, His guardians took direction from the Woburn court.When the boy was 9 he is said to have been implanted with a tracking device in his teeth by Tufts in Boston,Mass. shortly before Whitey Bulger signed on to the Top Echelon program. Several sleeper agents were put into place until after 1995 when Bulger went on the lam.When Bulger fled, the boy-now-man's medical records began disappearing and a Peter Mencher came on to the scene, a forensic psychiatrist affiliated with Tufts and who happened to be the family doctor for the mysterious girlfriend who met the man while attending Northeastern University in Boston,Mass (NU associated with numerous parties in the Bulger case AND with the boy's guardian ad litem). Peter Mencher appears to have tried to have the man committed for reporting a wide array of strange and disturbing incidents which occurred with witnesses after Bulger fled, including:1) car tampering and incidents involving cars,2) evidence of phone monitoring and phone records monitoring, 3) long term surveillance by clothed and plain-clothed personnel,4) mysterious,sudden trips with no disclosed destination,contact numbers, or return date by the gf 5) a male who apparently had access to the man's video rental records and watched him wherever he went and who did not deny being a federal government employee when questioned,6) At least 6 or more individuals who met the man usually in the workplace,befriended him, then announced a connection with the FBI shortly before the man lost his job,7) mysterious disappearance of funds from the man's bank account at Fleet Bank never replaced or accounted for by bank personnel, including Christine Whitman,8) at least 4 solicitations by Raytheon for decent job interviews only to be refused by a man surrounded with NSA-logo material, James McGaughey,9) Constant unexplained calls from an undisclosed phone extension at MBNA,where the man had credit accounts in good standing and to which Louis Freeh later went on to become an executive and from a John Tomaselli 10) Being blamed for the chaos in the Whitey Bulger case 11) Being maneuvered to work for businesses only with federal government contracts, then being surrounded by in

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2011

    Of the death of a president, sinking of the U.S.S. Thresher and perhaps much more??

    Prior to the emergence of leukemia in Woburn, the water was extremely good. Was Woburn the site of an economic civil war started in Masaachusetts between the military (Boston and Portsmouth navy yards) and the newly ascendant space program? A military officer testified before congress that 20% of the back pressure relief valves were installed prior to Thresher's first test voyage in which 109 or so military and civilian personnel were sent to their deaths. A small group of unidentified workmen(reminiscent of the well-groomed 'hobos' in the roundup immediately following the shooting of JFK). Did these workmen deliberately install the valves backwards (valves sold to the government by Carl Roessler of Trans-Sonic and chairman of the "Save our Shipyard" committee ) to make Portsmouth look bad and save the Boston Navy yard from McNamara's cutting block? Did a space object of terrstrial or extra-terrestrail origin crash land in the undeveloped woods of 1960s Woburn prompting JFK's focus and approval on Woburn as the site for what would later become the Houston Space Center AND Draper labs( the one site split into 2 entities)? Why was the Schlicter Act, implemented after union-busting by the Bonannos in a railroad strike which jeopardized public safety and triggered a need to prevent union tactics which risk the safety to the public not brought in to prevent the contamination-- or was the contamination a diversionary tactic to a much bigger event? Why did hospital records at Tufts and other begin disappearing around the time this book came out? Why would the Woburn Court releaze thousans of pages of court records while a gag order was emplaced to a private attorney? Why was Schlictmann affiliated with Tom Kiley and therefore William and Whitey Bulger? Why were highly suspicious articles clipped and prevented from making it onto microfilm?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    Highly Recommended- Realistic depiction

    I was recently reminded of this tragedy by a friend who has lived in Woburn his entire life and has suffered from many health complications; autoimmune.
    Although I lived several towns away in Lexington at the time, I still vividly remember the news of a horrible "cluster" of cancer occurences attributed to the toxic waste in the drinking water. So very sad for the families who lost their children because of this. I think the movie brought some justice, but of course, can never heal the families who lost a child.

    Noticed many postings about a Ken Grant and his connection to this story and to Whitey Bulger?

    This person must be mentally ill.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Tragic story of average America

    There is a lot which this movie and the book do not tell about victims never mentioned in the book. An interesting point is there is a man who wrote a book prior to this detailing to some degree his experiences in Woburn as a handicaped youngster probably affected by the water and who may have been mentioned in the book in a disguised form. That man was later befriended and apparently monitored by women in the book selling industry.The man is alleged to have been monitored by such person who in turn relayed personal information gathered to a third party as well as discreetly obtained contact info for friends and associates of the man without his knowledge.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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