The event this movie is based on, the CSX 8888/Crazy Eights incident, was a lot more dull than the movie or even the name would imply. A train carrying dangerous flammable chemicals did get loose, but there were no injuries (much less any deaths), no innocent towns or civilians were in danger, and the whole thing was wrapped up in two hours. In other words, it took less time to resolve the real-life situation than it does to watch the movie it inspired.
Now, senior engineer Jon Hosfield did have to jump onto the moving train to shut it down, but the machine was going a non-pants-shittingly ten miles an hour. That’s about the same level of risk that people take riding in the beds of pickup trucks.
Also, whoever was responsible for the incident was never publicly named or judiciously exiled to dollar burger hell, and whatever happened to them was settled internally. All in all, Hollywood took a mistake that was fixed with no problems and turned it into a massive high-stakes drama. It’s like if The French Connection had been based on a clerical error on a tax form that was quickly cleared up.
Instead of taking PG&E to court in full view of the public, Brockovich’s firm convinced the residents of Hinkley to settle through private arbitration, where everything would be secret and the lawyers were basically accountable to nobody. After settling on the $333 million, the money wasn’t given to the townspeople to pay for their medical bills until six months later. That’s how long Erin’s firm held onto the cash, giving the lawyers just enough time to have their way with each and every $100 bill.
When Hinkley’s residents contacted Erin about their concerns (“concerns” is a term that here means “money for our cancer bills”), they found that their one-time advocate was now unreachable. Once they finally received the money, they noticed that it was far less than they expected. That’s because the law firm, wanting more than the agreed-upon 40 percent of the settlement ($133 million), took an extra $10 million for “expenses.”
Then, in an act that would make Satan himself issue a public apology, Brockovich’s firm screwed the kids with cancer by taking a third of their settlements, even though it’s an extraordinarily unusual and universally frowned upon practice to take more than 25 percent. Hinkley’s residents also noticed that there was no rationale behind how much money each resident received, but the rules of private arbitration prevented them from finding out the formula used to determine the settlements.
In the meantime, Brockovich has used the movie’s portrayal of herself to launch successful careers as an environmental activist and motivational speaker, although we’re assuming she leaves the whole “ripping off cancer patients” thing out.
“This isn’t a ventriloquist act. I am not trying to tell you what I think by using these actors and these characters as a delivery system for what I think. I’m really only thinking about a good story well told. But in terms of their personalities, there will be a piece of me in all the characters. I am the first one who plays them.”
Managers tend to pick a strategy that is the least likely to fail, rather then to pick a strategy that is most efficient,“ Said Palmer. ” The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move.
Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game