Dark Waters * Compelling Look at One Man’s Fight Against the Corrupt Practices of a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
BY Ranny Levy, Founder/President KidsFirst!
From Participant (Spotlight, Green Book), DARK WATERS tells the shocking and heroic story of an attorney (Mark Ruffalo) who risks his career and family to uncover a dark secret hidden by one of the world’s largest corporations and to bring justice to a community dangerously exposed for decades to deadly chemicals.
Corporate environmental defense attorney Rob Bilott (Academy Award®-nominee Mark Ruffalo) has just made partner at his prestigious Cincinnati law firm in large part due to his work defending Big Chem companies. He finds himself conflicted after he’s contacted by two West Virginia farmers who believe that the local DuPont plant is dumping toxic waste in the area landfill that is destroying their fields and killing their cattle. Hoping to learn the truth about just what is happening, Bilott, with help from his supervising partner in the firm, Tom Terp (Academy Award®-winner Tim Robbins), files a complaint that marks the beginning of an epic 15-year fight—one that will not only test his relationship with his wife, Sarah (Academy Award®-winner Anne Hathaway) but also his reputation, his health and his livelihood.
KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “Dark Waters is a compelling look at one man’s fight against the corrupt practices of a multi-billion dollar company.”
Benjamin Price, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14
Dark Waters is a compelling look at one man’s fight against the corrupt practices of a multi-billion dollar company.
Based on a true story, Dark Waters follows Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate lawyer who gets a call from a family friend named Wilbur (Bill Camp) about a disturbance on his farm in West Virginia. Over 100 of Wilbur’s cows have died and he suspects it has something to do with the creek running through his property. Wilbur’s hunch becomes a frightening truth as Rob investigates decades’ worth of wrong-doing by the DuPont chemical company.
Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Rob Bilott is excellent. He’s played the legal scenes with conviction, but he feels more like a vessel to receive information than a fully- formed character. We see plenty of Bilott’s moral standards, but we rarely get a sense of what drives him to do the work he does or who he is emotional. It makes it harder to fully connect with and invest in his character. A performance worth noting with much less screen time is Bill Pullman as lawyer Harry Dietzler. Pullman gives Dark Waters a boost of energy. He’s not comedic relief, but he’s certainly a breath of fresh air.
Todd Haynes’s direction is both impressive and overbearing. Haynes has a flair for stylistic flourishes in his other films and here the moody, muted lighting that clouds much of the film creates a feeling of anxiety that makes every step of Rob’s journey and what he discovers uncomfortable in a way that’s very effective. By the same token, the color scheme is dark and dreary throughout and the film ends up with a dull sheen and a tone that feels at times heavy-handed.
An aspect of the filmmaking I love is the use of tracking shots to show not only the lives that DuPont destroyed but the communities too. Dark Waters is unflinching when it comes to depicting the consequences of DuPont’s malpractice. It tells and more specifically, shows it, in a way that rightfully stirs up an audience reaction of anger and injustice.
I recommend Dark Waters for ages 12 to 18 for some shocking images and brief language. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for a good or feel-good time at the cinema for the holidays, this isn’t it, but Dark Waters is definitely an informative and important film. Dark Waters opens in theaters on November 27, 2019.