‘Dark Waters’ review: dark, dogged, and important

There’s not much joy to be derived from director Todd Haynes’ latest offering. Sepulchred in swampy corporate behavior, Dark Waters, true to its title, narrates the dark and true story of manufacturing company DuPont’s irresponsible and consequences-be-damned dumping of chemicals in Parkersburg, West Virginia. But the consequences of this malfeasance are borne by the livestock in the area, and one of the farmers ends up knocking the doors of white-shoe law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister. Wilbur Tennant, the complainant, is played by Bill Camp with a doomed rasp and anger, the end-effect of the long-term exposure to silent poison. At the law firm, that he’s been pointed to, he’s come to meet corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), who, as human nature goes, is skeptical about the entire premise. Until he visits the Tennant farm.

Backed by his initially hesitant firm supervisor Tom Terp (the superb Tim Robbins), Bilott goes all out against the company, locking horns with executive Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber, effective as always), leading to the first of many legal-pugilistic rounds with the giant, even as the lawyer realizes there’s things as bad—if not worse—than toxic dumping that’s been enabled. Along the way, the long-drawn out battle has devastating consequences for all on the plaintiff side. Bilott’s marriage bursts at its financial and emotional seams—wife Sarah played in a small but feisty act by Anne Hathaway—while the Tennants (the wife played by the speaking silently in volumes Denise Dal Vera) are running out of time and friends, and Taft is slowly squeezed up against the corner. This, even as a class action suit plays out with personal injury lawyer Harry Deitzler (Bill Pullman, smilingly and self-effacingly terrific) helps Bilott with the suit.

Tim Robbins, Mark Ruffalo: Taf(t) times ahead.

If you’re looking to get away from all the harried times we’re currently living in, it’s best to avoid Dark Waters. There’s nary a strand of joy in there, and with cinematographer Edward Lachman, Haynes bleeds the screen with filters of green-bucks greed and gloomy grey. And yet, it’s also important that you watch it. Co-producing the movie—based on the New York Times Magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich—actor Mark Ruffalo plays the dogged Robert Bilott with determinedly pursed lips and a force that’s quietly degenerative and consuming. In the face of unaccounted horrors and corporate turpitude driven by an acidic focus on profits, it’s warriors—the word that’s become the new superhero sobriquet—such as Bilott who expose the continued ravaging of human lives and the only place we know as home: earth.

Bill Camp: aim to survive.

When you realize that the chemical that DuPont leeched out—through communication and EPA filing subterfuge—is present in almost of us thanks to that deadly sleight, you realize that it’s not just the pandemic, the foaming, polluted water bodies, or the adulterated food that’s coming to get us. It’s worse than that. It’s from the fire into the deadly non-stick pan.

Dark Waters (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Dark Waters is streaming on Sony LIV and is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for disturbing images showing ravage-hit deformities and burnt innards.

Dark Waters
Director Todd Haynes Time 2h 6min
Writers  Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Nathaniel Rich (based on)
Stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp
Genres Biography, Drama, History, Thriller

Watch the trailer of Dark Waters here.