Imagine a killer who hides in plain sight, attacks any living creature without discrimination. It will never be defeated, and more than likely has already attacked you. It sounds like a truly terrifying horror film, am I right? And yet PFOA is a real chemical that has been linked to many cancers and birth defects. Dark Waters takes a look at how industrial malfeasance can be willfully concealed. The uphill battles it takes for a multi-billion dollar corporation to have accountability for such gross actions.
It’s 1998 and things are looking up for corporate attorney Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo). Officially named a partner at his law firm his career is at an all-time high. He works with chemical companies to keep everything on track. He suddenly gets a call from Wilbur (Camp) a Parkersburg farmer who has lost the majority of his cattle to a mysterious illness. Believing the local DuPont chemical plant is to blame Wilbur asks Robert to help unravel. Robert begins to pour over documents from DuPont. He begins to unravel decades of information covered-up in order to preserve the bottom line. How bad is the damage? Can Robert bring a corporation with billions in assets and a long-standing reputation as an American institution to justice?
Todd Haynes is a director whose works I only have a passing familiarity with. What I have seen, I enjoy. Using a limited variety of color palettes and framing Haynes does a great job giving the film a strong and often opposing feel. Everything in Parkersburg has a cold lived-in feel. This adds to the monotony of small-town life while also giving it a sense of foreboding dread. In contrast, many of the indoor scenes in the law firm and at corporate galas are warmly lit. However, for the most part, it feels hollow. It’s a subtle manipulation that adds to the effectiveness of the overall atmosphere.
With true stories, it’s always tough for writers to avoid their natural instincts of making things a bit more interesting. I am thankful that there was rarely a moment where you could feel a screenwriter massaging the truth in service to the drama. There are a few moments that feel ratcheted up for tension. The dialogue clearly has the feel of a writer’s wit. It doesn’t blatantly distract from the seriousness of the situation.
It’s always tough for me to be impartial with a performance when it comes to Ruffalo. I’ve been a fan of the guy for a long time and have enjoyed his performances in even the worst films he’s had a hand in. Showing humanity and honor in Bilott evokes an almost modern-day take on Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. There is passion of justice even if his search for it comes at the expense of himself and the loved ones around him. It does often feel like the role of Bilott’s stay at home wife short-changes Anne Hathaway. As always she does the best she can with what they give to her. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out with some solid work.
Camp gets the most to do out of the group showing the anger and frustration Wilbur feels knowing something is wrong but is out of luck going up against his hometown’s number one job supplier and economy stimulator. Robbins as always is great in a small role. It shows even though Bilott fought an uphill battle he did have allies. Making the most out of his minimal screen time is the always great Bill Pullman. Being the class action lawyer Bilott needs to move his lawsuit forward Pullman infuses the right amount of ambulance chaser and underdog with just a hint of humor. It is also nice to see William Jackson Harper pull in another solid role in Dark Waters. With The Good Place ending this season, it’s nice to know we’ll be seeing more of him in upcoming fare.
In the end, if you’ve ever drunk a glass of unfiltered tap water you need to see Dark Waters. It’s a bleak reminder that even when things look clear cut and palpable there can always be something dangerous lurking.
Overall Score 4.5/5