Several children from a small town die of leukemia in a relatively short amount of time, prompting the bereaved parents to seek help from an attorney. In all honesty, these people aren't looking to capitalize on this tragedy for money, but rather they want someone to take responsibility for the perceived problem and remedy it. This is where personal injury lawyer Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) steps into the picture. He identifies two corporations as the likely sources of the chemicals turning up in the town's water supply and begins an investigation. The case ends up bankrupting his small firm before a settlement can be reached. But that doesn't mean that justice won't prevail.
Based on a true story, "A Civil Action" paints a grim picture of the callousness of big business when it comes to human suffering caused by their products or processes. Robert Duvall, as chief counsel for one of the corporations, is a stand out in the film. Travolta, himself, does not fair so well. His performance is largely stagnant, which makes rooting for him as the protagonist a difficult proposition. His change of heart from ambulance chaser to caring individual just doesn't feel right. As an expose of unethical business practices, "A Civil Action" isn't nearly as interesting as, say, "Silkwood". While justice prevails in the end, satisfaction does not.