Generally favorable reviews - based on 26 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 26
  2. Negative: 0 out of 26
  1. Reviewed by: Norman Green
    The convergence of storytelling mastery, acting virtuosity and star power makes A Civil Action one of the greatest films of the year.
  2. It tells a finely nuanced tale of right, wrong and the gray area in between.
  3. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    Zaillian's meaty movie, at once bleak and hopeful, speaks volumes about the maddening distance between justice and the justice system.
  4. 90
    Not just another lawyer movie, but rather one of the most striking dramas of the year.
  5. 88
    Civil Action is like John Grisham for grownups.
  6. Comes close, achingly close, to greatness.
  7. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    A sturdy piece of work, an old-fashioned conversion narrative with some high-tech zip.
  8. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    A smart, tough, yet curiously moving film.
  9. This is Hollywood expertise and Hollywood civic idealism at high levels.
  10. In place of the tension, climax and easy resolution of the old "Perry Mason'' show, A Civil Action offers murkiness, bitter successes and frustration.
  11. 75
    A courtroom drama which is sufficiently different and thought-provoking that I can recommend it with a clear conscience.
  12. I'm all for films that don't flow from the usual Hollywood test tubes, but A Civil Action is basically the standard formula with a dash of downbeat.
  13. 70
    A well-chewed gumbo of every lawyer flick you’ve ever seen.
  14. Reviewed by: Emanuel Levy
    A solid and intelligent legal thriller that may be too complex in its issues, and too low-key and unexciting in its style, for today's market demands.
  15. 70
    A complex, compelling examination of personal-injury law as well as a portrait of personal redemption, the movie quickly sets its tone with a heartless summation of an individual's relative worth.
  16. The underlying problem is the mainstream film format's length constraints, which seem to have forced a rude bowdlerization of the story.
  17. Reviewed by: Anthony Miele
    Takes an unexpected turn towards originality where every other "David vs. Goliath-courtroom drama" only strives.
  18. 60
    Millions of people read Harr's gripping bestseller, but Steven Zaillian may be the only one who didn't understand it.
  19. Reviewed by: John Hartl
    All the ingredients are here for both a smashing courtroom drama and a legitimate tearjerker, but the film ultimately doesn't have the technique or the heart to deliver either.
  20. 60
    As a primer on the arcana surrounding the profession of personal injury lawyer (more familiarly known as ambulance chaser), A Civil Action is deeply, and even passionately, informative. As a drama and character study, though, it mostly misses the mark.
  21. A jaundiced view of litigation, however authentic, is not necessarily the stuff of great drama, even of the legal-thriller variety, which by definition is confined to a claustrophobic courtroom.
  22. 60
    That the story is true (and based on an expertly written book by Jonathan Harr) doesn't make A Civil Action any more satisfying dramatically -- there's a streak of obviousness in the moral melodrama that dampens one's interest.
  23. Starts out well, but it turns into an almost perversely undramatic legal thriller.
  24. 50
    Courtroom dramas that favor the courtroom over the drama are always in danger of eye-glazing dullness.
  25. 50
    A slick, shameless job that takes way too long to make its point.
  26. A multifaceted misfire from writer-director Steven Zaillian.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 18 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 5 out of 6
  2. Negative: 0 out of 6
  1. May 7, 2013
    It's a good movie and I went back-and-forth between giving this a 7 or 8, but ultimately chose an 8. Travolta is good in the lead role and Macy is great in his supporting role as well. Being that the movie is based on a true story, the empathy you feel for the plaintiffs is certainly more powerful and I think that really helps the film along. Robert Duvall was also great in his role as the defense attorney. Full Review »
  2. Nov 18, 2012
    A Civil Action proves to be a solid legal drama, and that's mostly thanks to its stellar characters, who are played with quiet control by some talented actors. Full Review »
  3. Oct 15, 2011
    the movie was interesting to watch, though it has the general flaw of 'based on a true story'-movies of the ending being kind of an anticlimax. but the characters were very believable and i watched it all the way through. Full Review »