It's hard to fault a movie for creating bad or annoying characters, when the characters are based on real people. From the moment he stepped onto the screen, I didn't like Schlichtmann. I didn't like his attitude or what he stood for. It doesn't help that Travolta just naturally has a pompous "I'm better than you" look on his face. I didn't like Robert Duvall as the opposing lawyer. I didn't like John Lithgow's portryal of the judge. But I realized after a while that I wasn't really supposed to. This is what happens in real life. This wasn't a typical Hollywood courtroom drama where all of a sudden a witness cracks on the stand and everyone goes home happy. Schlichtmann went for the gold and ended up with almost nothing. He says he'd do it all over again, but I'm not sure if he would. If he knew that he'd end up bankrupt, I don't think he'd end up doing it all over again. He was a money hungry, no morals kind of lawyer. The only reason he took the case was for the money. Even by the end of the film I didn't believe that he had a moral turnaround (although the postscript said that he became an environmental lawyer).
If I had to find fault with part of the movie, it was the fact that we never got to know anyone else in the film. I realize that the story was to be about Schlichtmann, but I think it would have helped to get to know other people. There was only one scene where we got to hear the story of the children's parents. We never got to know the other lawyers in the firm. For a court case that was centered around dead children, we only got to see one lawyer. I thought the movie could have been a lot better had we gotten to know more of the story surrounding the case, rather than just one man's view of what happened.
Overall A Civil Action was an interesting story, but one that wasn't captivating. The performances were almost non-existent only because John Travolta was front and center the entire time. As far as being a courtroom drama, most of the action took place outside of the courtroom. For all the talk, I thought it would be better.