Dark Waters

 

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An authentic tale about corporate power in America and its resistance when challenged.

 
Dark Waters

Bill Camp and Mark Ruffalo

 

Oddly enough this is the second film to emerge in recent times that finds a well-established director telling a true-life story in a way that leaves no personal mark on the material. The first case was that of François Ozon's By the Grace of God, a very competent work dealing with real-life claims of paedophilia within the Church. The screenplay (by Ozon himself) was effectively individual at times, but the directorial style was controlled and without flourishes as though the serious non-fictional subject-matter demanded an unshowy tone. Now in Dark Waters we have a work written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnaham which traces the eight long years during which a lawyer, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), sought to expose the fact that the DuPont chemical company was responsible for pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, pollution that was already causing cows to die and would soon result in harming and killing human beings. A local farmer (Bill Camp) unable to get legal help to take on this giant company approached Bilott who had grown up in the area and he, despite working primarily as a corporate defence attorney, devoted himself to this issue. This time the director opting for a virtually anonymous approach is Todd Haynes. Dark Waters may carry the usual proviso that some of the true story has been dramatised, but there is again an avoidance of anything fanciful in the telling.

 

The writing here is less compelling than in By the Grace of God with the result that Haynes's film feels rather pedestrian (there was a much stronger dramatic tone to the 1999 Russell Crowe vehicle The Insider which also dealt with an individual taking on a powerful company). Nevertheless, Dark Waters does have a tale that is decidedly worth telling and all the more so because DuPont were shown to have concealed what they knew about the dangers in the fluoride C-8 used by them in Teflon since around 1962. Consequently, Dark Waters stands as a stark warning about the power of huge companies and thus makes the film one of value regardless of any weaknesses in the writing. However, as presented here, Bilott's workload appears to involve nothing but this one case although his obsession with it is shown late on in this long film (127 minutes) as causing him health problems and even creating problems within his marriage. Despite that development, the role of his wife played by Anne Hathaway seems peripheral being inadequately fleshed out and thereby leaving one with the feeling that the actress is wasted here. It is true that she is given one scene in which she confronts her husband over the way in which his work has led to neglect of the family, but its inclusion feels like a mere sop to Hathaway, especially since the episode is so brief. Furthermore, in these later stages when Bilott's preoccupation with it becomes a concern, the film is very vague as to what the case continues to require of him. But, that said, Ruffalo, also a producer here, is a solid presence in the lead role and, when Hollywood spends so much time on escapist entertainment these days, material of this kind deserves a welcome. So Dark Waters is worthwhile, even though its muted tone makes for a film that is more honourable than stirring.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, Bill Pullman, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause, Bruce Cromer, Denise Dal Vera.

 

Dir Todd Haynes, Pro Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler and Mark Ruffalo, Screenplay Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnaham, based on a magazine article by Nathaniel Rich, Ph Edward Lachman, Pro Des Hannah Beachler, Ed Affonso Gonçalves, Music Marcelo Zarvos, Costumes Christopher Peterson, Dialect coach Liz Himelstein.

 

Participant/Will Hill/Killer Content-Entertainment One.
127 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 28 February 2020. Cert. 12A.