Analysis of Jonathan Harr´s A Civil Action Essay
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Jonathan Harr wrote a compelling novel, called A Civil Action, on the actual events of a thrilling court case involving two major corporations and the families who were affected greatly. In Woburn, Massachusetts there were twenty-eight children who contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia between the years of 1964 and 1986. The explanation for the contraction of the disease and even the death of some of the children was discovered in the water; two municipal wells near the town were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Eight families filed suit against W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods Inc., accusing them for the contamination of the wells and the death of their children. The families only wanted an apology and the truth but when…show more content…
Jonathan Harr wrote a compelling novel, called A Civil Action, on the actual events of a thrilling court case involving two major corporations and the families who were affected greatly. In Woburn, Massachusetts there were twenty-eight children who contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia between the years of 1964 and 1986. The explanation for the contraction of the disease and even the death of some of the children was discovered in the water; two municipal wells near the town were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Eight families filed suit against W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods Inc., accusing them for the contamination of the wells and the death of their children. The families only wanted an apology and the truth but when the case began, discovering the truth became difficult. One prevalent theme found throughout the book is the conflict between finding the truth and the judicial process. The two are almost always incompatible with each other in the courtroom, and A Civil Action illustrates that quite well. The fight for the truth was taken over by trial tactics used by the defendant, whose goal was to keep the truth from getting out. It is natural for the plaintiff and the defendant to use tactics to create the verdict rather than using the facts of the case because both aim for success. Misinformation, partial truths, and hidden facts are common in the courtroom and one scene of A Civil Action shows how it can change the whole trial. People of the
''It's suddenly become a much easier city to shoot in with the new mayor,'' said Scott Kroops, one of three producers of ''Class Action.'' Mr. Kroops, along with Ted Field and Robert W. Cort, are producing the movie for Interscope Communications, which includes among its past projects ''Cocktail,'' ''Three Men and a Baby'' and ''Outrageous Fortune,'' as well as the forthcoming ''Bird on a Wire,'' starring Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson.
Three other movies are scheduled to begin shooting in the next few months in the city, which will benefit from at least $5 million in revenues, according to Robin Eickman, director of the San Francisco Film Office. The average television or feature film production spends about $30,000 a day in the city, she said.
The plot concerns Jedediah Tucker Ward, a well-known firebrand civil liberties lawyer who is representing several victims of faulty cars made by the high-powered and ethically reprehensible Argo Motors. His daughter, Maggie, who is on the fast track at a prestigious corporate law firm, seizes the opportunity to represent Argo Motors as the key to winning promotion to a partnership in her firm.
When the two discover they will be opponents in the courtroom, they stubbornly proceed with the case anyway, aware that the outcome may sever any chance to save their long-stormy relationship.
It was about four years ago that Mr. Kroops first became interested in the script and its potential to relate timely issues.
''It struck us that the father-daughter relationship seems to have been pretty much neglected in the last 25 years,'' he said. ''Part of the movie is about family dynamics, and how you have to re-examine things that had gone on when you were a child and learn to come to terms with that and develop new relationships with your family when you become an adult.''
At a time of growing public concern over corporate ethical responsibility, Maggie's dilemma over the moral behavior of Argo Motors and her law firm attracted Mr. Apted, the English film maker who has directed such features as ''Coal Miner's Daughter'' and ''Gorillas in the Mist,'' as well as the acclaimed documentary ''28-Up.''
''The whole issue of children making relationships with parents is interesting,'' said Mr. Apted. ''But there's also the story about the ethics of modern society, which interests me a lot - that we have an obligation to community, rather than an obligation to the corporation's bank balance.''
Telling the story against a courtroom backdrop also appealed to Mr. Apted, 48, who studied law and history at Cambridge University before embarking on his entertainment career.
''I've always retained a great interest in the law and its place in society,'' he said. ''This material dealt with that intelligently and contemporarily.''
As the first feature film to be shot in San Francisco since the Oct. 17 earthquake, ''Class Action'' seemed a fitting one to break in the city's welcome mat. The movie, filmed on a $17 million budget, allows its makers to attempt to capture on celluloid the intellectual atmosphere and the natural beauty for which San Francisco has been known.
The setting was originally Washington, D.C., but Mr. Kroops, a Palo Alto native, thought that San Francisco was the natural setting for a movie in which 60's liberalism, represented by Jed, is pitted against 80's conservatism, as reflected in the character of Maggie.
One example of the city's photogenic quality being put to good use was the penthouse offices on the 20th floor of 75 Hawthorne Place in downtown San Francisco, which seemed ideal for Quinn, Califan, the corporate law firm where Maggie works.
In a world in which offices with a view are valued as signs of success, Quinn, Califan scores high marks. Here, some of the most stunning views of the Bay Bridge and the bay may be seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows. ''It has a 'corridors of power' feeling to it,'' Mr. Apted said.
The city offered other assets besides historical baggage and naturally beautiful backdrops. For example, Tony Serra, the criminal-law attorney who inspired the 1989 movie ''True Believer,'' is one of San Francisco's best-known lawyers. Mr. Serra, whose character served as a partial model for Jed Ward, works out of a downtown office that Mr. Apted coveted for the character of Jed.
''I fell in love with the office,'' Mr. Apted said. ''Architecturally and dramatically it was very good and had the right feel to it.''
Mr. Serra's office, in North Beach near Chinatown, is distinguished by its cluttered look, mostly provided by travel souvenirs, old but not antique furniture, dark wood and cozy, comfortable ambiance.
Luckily, a partner of Mr. Serra was a former college roommate of the production designer Todd Hallowell, and the crew gained access without problems. The partner plays a bit part in the movie as a bicycle messenger. Recently Mr. Serra, who is also cast as an extra, gave an inspirational performance admired by Mr. Hackman and Ms. Mastrantonio.
''We had the opportunity to go to the court here in San Francisco before the rehearsal,'' Mr. Hackman said, ''and I was privileged to watch his opening statement in a murder trial. It took two and a half hours, and he did it without notes. I was very impressed by that.'' Ms. Mastrantonio, whose previous observation of lawyers occurred when she once served on a jury, also learned from the experience. ''I watched this man, and I thought, boy, he just gives you permission to do what you think is right,'' she said. ''He soars. So in that sense, you realize there's no one way to do an attorney.''
To lend verisimilitude to the film, Mr. Apted drafted other city luminaries for the picture, including the mayor, the city supervisors, the celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli, and San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Dearman, whose own awards and professional plaques were useful as props.
''Hackman's character is supposed to be a pillar of society here,'' Mr. Apted said. ''These are people he would have known.'' ''This father-daughter relationship is exciting to me,'' Mr. Hackman said. ''What's also exciting about this character is that he's an advocate; he's a person whose excited about working for the underprivileged. But he also has all kinds of warts and discolorments. That kind of conflict is always interesting for actors.''Continue reading the main story