Movie review: Dark waters

November 28, 2019

WE felt sad when we watched “Dark Waters” on its first screening on opening day. There were just one other viewer aside from us. Well, it was not promoted and it’s a serious issue-oriented film so viewers who go for escapist films will avoid it. It’s based on a New York Times magazine article in 2016. “The Lawyer who Becomes DuPont’s Worse Nightmare”, about the true story of corporate lawyer in a big Cincinnati law firm, Robert Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo), who turns into a relentless environmental crusader.

He’s about to get a promotion when a farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a friend of his grandma, visits him unannounced and asks him to find out what’s poisoning the cows on his farm. He is reluctant to accept it but his conscience urges him to investigate and he is shocked by what he discovers.

It’s not only the animals but also the people in the West Virginia town where the farm is located who are being poisoned by a giant chemical company, DuPont, makers of Teflon that turns out to be made of toxic chemicals. He sues the company and it will take a tedious and draining process of many, many years before justice (something like two decades) is finally served.

His marriage to his wife (Anne Hathaway in a supporting role) will be put into test and even his own health suffers when he suffers TIA (transient ischemic attack) that makes the right side of his body twitch uncontrobllably. You can also see his children growing up and his main client dying along the way.

The movie will remind you of other issue-oriented flicks like “Erin Brokovich”, “Spotlight” and “The Insider”. This is directed by Todd Haynes who previously made Oscar-nominated dramas about homosexuality (“Far from Heaven”) and lesbianism (“Carol”). Some scenes in the film can be quite disturbing, like that scene where Bilott shows a DuPont executive the picture of a boy born with facial deformities because of the poison in the water drunk by his mother who worked at DuPont.

This boy is Bucky Bailey and he is later shown in the movie as a grown up. That scene is truly unsettling because the film forces us also to look at the now grown up with a deformed face and not look away.

Haynes makes sure the film is drab and gloomy. The snowy scenes, the drab board rooms, the mounds where dead animals were buried make you feel the injustice and toxicity of what’s going on. What’s even more shocking is that the DuPont company has long discovered that their chemicals are poisoining people but turned a blind eye to its harmful effects and even hid it from the public.

Mark Ruffalo, best known as The Hulk in “Avengers” series, shows his wide range as an actor as the fighting lawyer and attacks it with fierce commitment. If the movie doesn’t spark a sense of moral outrage in you on what ruthless and greedy big business can do in the name of profit, and to the detriment of the general populace, then you have a heart of stone. Aside from Ruffalo, Tim Robbins gives great support as Bilott’s supportive boss who backs him up in his investigation and protracted legal struggle. We're sure the movie will be quickly withdrawn from theaters due to lack of viewers.