August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Civil Action

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
Wide Release Date
01/08/99
performer
John Travolta, Robert Duvall, James Gandolfini, John Lithgow, William H. Macy, Tony Shalhoub
director
Steven Zaillian
distributor
Touchstone Pictures
author
Steven Zaillian
genre
Mystery and Thriller, Drama

STARRING John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Kathleen Quinlan, Kathy Bates, James Gandolfini, John Lithgow, William H. Macy

DIRECTED BY Steven Zaillian

Cruise, Hanks, Carrey, Pacino, Newman, Damon — they’ve all played lawyers. Now Travolta takes the Hollywood bar in the true story of eight families stricken with leukemia in an industrial Boston suburb. Travolta stars as Jan Schlichtmann, the attorney who gave up nearly a decade of his life — and his life’s savings — to fight the two corporations he believed were responsible for the toxic pollution. ”We needed someone big, someone obsessed, someone you’d want to follow to the ends of the earth,” says producer Rachel Pfeffer (The Horse Whisperer, A Few Good Men). ”Somebody like John.” The film is based on Jonathan Harr’s prizewinning 1995 book, which has spent almost two years on the best-seller list. Yet as a movie, it was a tough — and expensive — proposition; families mentioned in the book sued Disney, which ultimately paid them for their stories. Also, the book’s almost 500 pages long, ”with hundreds of characters,” says Zaillian (writer-director of Searching for Bobby Fischer and screenwriter of Schindler’s List). ”We had to make sense of it in two hours.” Add to that the un-Hollywood themes of dying children and environmental woes, and the project seemed like a losing case. Says Duvall, ”I kept telling [Travolta] he was a lot more fun during Phenomenon.” (Dec. 25)

THE LOWDOWN Courtrooms and Christmas are an uneasy match, but critics like Zaillian and everybody likes Travolta.

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