In March 2001, Julia Roberts was awarded the Academy Award for 'Best Actress' for her performance in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 biographical legal drama Erin Brockovich, a film in which she plays the titular character. The movie was also nominated for a further four Academy Awards: 'Best Director', 'Best Picture', 'Best Original Screenplay' and 'Best Supporting Actor' for Albert Finney.
The film told the true story of Erin Brockovich, a single mother of three children who inadvertently became a paralegal. When Brockovich's court case against a doctor who injured her in a traffic accident is dismissed due to her confrontational behaviour, she is in need of a job and starts working without being asked to at her lawyer Ed Masry's office.
After all, Masry had promised Brockovich that everything would work out and believed that she would indeed win the case. Working for Masry, Brockovich is given the papers for a real estate case in which the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California is trying to buy a house in Hinkley, California. However, Brockovich senses that something fishy is up with the deal, seeing as the files contain medical records within them. Upon visiting the house's owner, she discovers that many of the residents of Hinkley have serious health issues, including cancerous tumours and even Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Upon further investigation, Brockovich discovers that the drinking water of Hinkley had been contaminated with hexavalent chromium because the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California had used the chemical in a cooling tower at the Hinkley compressor station to fight corrosion.
The case led to a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California, which was settled in 1996 for a total of $333million, which was the biggest settlement ever distributed in a 'direct-action' suit of the United States. Masry's law firm, which Brockovich worked for, received $133.6m of the settlement, and Brockovich herself was given $2.5m of that fee for her tirelessly hard work.
The film paid tribute to the real Erin Brockovich and also to Ed Masry, who helped to build the case against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California with Brockovich. In a diner scene, Julia Roberts orders breakfast, and she is served by a waitress played by the real Brockovich. Sat behind her is the real Ed Masry. The final fitting touch is that the waitress' name tag reads "Julia", of course, Roberts' first name. A moving tribute to a brilliant story.