Many of us do not know the words to our own song. We stumble along seeking the right tune. Then, often suddenly, we catch an intimation of what we have been put on earth to do. We embrace our particular project and begin to sing from the bottom of our heart. And it feels so good, so right, and so true.

Erin Brockovich explores this dramatic process of calling and vocation in the true story of an unemployed mother (Julia Roberts) of three who has been divorced twice. She hires Ed Masry (Albert Finney), a middle-aged lawyer near the end of his not very illustrious career, to plead her suit against a driver who crashed into her car at an intersection. After losing in court, Erin bulldozes her way into working at Masry's Los Angeles law firm. Her brashness, foul language, and miniskirts immediately make this newcomer a pariah in the office.

One day when she is setting up a file for a pro bono real estate account, Erin inadvertently comes across records of Pacific Gas and Electric's poisoning of the water supply of a small community near their plant. While George (Aaron Eckhart), her biker neighbor, graciously takes care of her three children, she interviews a slew of working-class families whose members have been afflicted with life-threatening diseases. With a zeal for justice and a deep empathy for these victims of corporate malfeasance, Erin wins their trust and promises to get them compensation for their suffering.

Director Steven Soderbergh, in his third triumph in a row (The Limey, Out of Sight), draws out a dazzling performance from Julia Roberts. The snappy screenplay by Susannah Grant wisely sticks with Erin's soulful blooming instead of focusing on trial scenes. One of the most salutary aspects of this riveting drama is the rounded portrait of a deeply flawed heroine who, like the courageous women in Norma Rae and Silkwood, demonstrates the hard road of trying to make a difference in the world.

The old cliche "Don't judge a book by its cover" is at the spiritual hub of Erin Brockovich. Although the lead character flaunts her sexuality and talks like a dockworker, she is a true miracle worker in the lives of those she helps. Although George comes off at first sight as a Harley freak, he turns out to be a nurturing friend with a heart of gold. And the malevolent-looking man, who seems to be a threat to Erin throughout the story, turns out to be the one who can supply the smoking gun she needs in the case against Pacific Gas and Electric's corporate office.