A Civil Action

Last Updated on: June 26th, 2024

A Civil Action

“A Civil Action” is a legal drama film released in 1998, directed by Steven Zaillian. The movie is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Jonathan Harr, which chronicles the true story of a legal battle between a group of families and two large corporations over contaminated drinking water.

The story centers around Jan Schlichtmann, a personal injury lawyer played by John Travolta. Schlichtmann is a successful and ambitious attorney who primarily represents corporate clients. However, he takes on a case involving eight families in Woburn, Massachusetts, whose children have been diagnosed with leukemia.

The families believe that the leukemia cases are linked to the toxic chemicals dumped into the local water supply by two large corporations: Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace. Despite the immense resources and power of the corporations, Schlichtmann is determined to seek justice for the families and hold the companies accountable for their actions.

As Schlichtmann delves deeper into the case, he faces numerous obstacles, including legal challenges, financial pressures, and personal doubts about his motivations. The film explores the complexities of the legal system and the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the attorney.

“A Civil Action” is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged drama that delves into themes of corporate responsibility, the pursuit of justice, and the toll of a high-stakes legal battle. John Travolta delivers a compelling performance as the conflicted attorney, capturing the emotional intensity of the case and the personal toll it takes on him.

The film also features a strong supporting cast, including Robert Duvall as Jerome Facher, a seasoned and formidable defense attorney, and William H. Macy as James Gordon, a friend and fellow lawyer who offers Schlichtmann support and guidance.

While “A Civil Action” received positive reviews from critics and was praised for its gripping narrative and strong performances, it was not a commercial success. Nevertheless, it has since gained recognition as a touchstone for legal dramas, particularly for its examination of the complexities of legal battles involving powerful corporations and the pursuit of justice in the face of formidable odds.

Fun Facts

  • The story is based on the true events of the Woburn toxic water case, which took place in the 1980s. The lawsuit involved allegations of groundwater contamination leading to health issues in the community.
  • To prepare for his role, John Travolta spent time with the real-life lawyer Jan Schlichtmann, studying his mannerisms and understanding the complexities of the legal case.
  • The film features a strong ensemble cast, including Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, John Lithgow, and Kathleen Quinlan, who all deliver compelling performances.
  • “A Civil Action” was praised for its realistic portrayal of the legal system and the complexities of environmental litigation. It delves into the ethical dilemmas faced by lawyers and the impact of corporate interests on the pursuit of justice.
  • The movie received mixed reviews from critics, but John Travolta’s performance was widely acclaimed, earning him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.
  • The production of the film faced several challenges, including securing filming locations that closely resembled the real Woburn, Massachusetts. The filmmakers ultimately chose several towns in Massachusetts to recreate the setting.
  • “A Civil Action” was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Robert Duvall and Best Original Score for Danny Elfman.
  • The film raises important environmental and social justice issues, prompting discussions about corporate responsibility and the struggle for justice against powerful entities.

Additional Details

  • Movie Studio:
  • Year Released:
  • Type of Movie: Live Action
  • Box Office: $112.2 million
  • Awards: Nominated Academy Award; Nominated Golden Globe
  • IMDB Link


  • John Travolta: Jan Schlichtmann
  • Tony Shalhoub: Kevin Conway
  • William H. Macy: James Gordon
  • Željko Ivanek: Bill Crowley
  • Kathleen Quinlan: Anne Anderson
  • Mary Mara: Kathy Boyer
  • Robert Duvall: Jerry Facher
  • Bruce Norris: William Cheeseman
  • Peter Jacobson: Neil Jacobs
  • Sydney Pollack: Al Eustis
  • Daniel von Bargen: Mr. Granger
  • John Lithgow: Judge Walter J. Skinner
  • Dan Hedaya: John Riley
  • James Gandolfini: Al Love
  • Stephen Fry: Dr. George Pinder


  • Director: Steven Zaillian
  • Producers: Scott Rudin, Robert Redford and Rachel Pfeffer
  • Writer: Steven Zaillian
  • Music: Danny Elfman

Movie Trailer:


About the Author

Craig Smith
I am founder and editor of DisneyNews.us. My passion for all things Disney goes pretty far back to my first trip to Walt Disney World in the mid-80's. I have since returned to the magical place more than 20 times. I started this site when I came to the realization that I spent a significant portion of my day reading articles about Disney and watching Disney content with my 8-year old, so it made sense that I would start sharing some of what I read and see and building a little community around it. Other interests include 80's nostalgia, vintage toys, video games, LEGO, Star Wars and tech gadgets. Other site isDMR.