Armed With a Spectacular Script, ‘Dark Waters’ Chillingly Explores the Depths of Corporate Depravity
Inspired by a shocking true story, a tenacious attorney (Mark Ruffalo) uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths due to one of the world’s largest corporations. In the process, he risks everything – his future, his family, and his own life – to expose the truth.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Bill Pullman, Tim Robbins, William Jackson Harper, Bill Camp
Runtime: 126 minutes
The year was 1998 and Robert Bilott was seemingly a perfect fit for the world of corporate lawyering – a young, unassuming family man who toiled at his duty as a lawyer defending large corporations. Yet after hearing of a rural farmer’s plight of his livestock dying off due to chemical poisoning, Robert’s unwavering conviction to do what it right forces him to turn the tables and sue one of his former clients, chemical giant DuPont.
The ensuing 20-year-long legal battle and his investigations to follow will uncover a ghastly truth: that the chemical giant has been – knowingly – poisoning people around the world through their Teflon line of products made with harmful chemicals.
Partially produced by its lead Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters very much reverberates like a passion project – full of urgency and brimming anger, all sharpened by a precision-like focus throughout. Ruffalo portrays the determined lawyer with an astonishing amount of humanising depth. Like his real-life counterpart, Ruffalo’s Robert is not made to be a hero. His sunken eyes and reserved demeanor betrays his inner convictions and makes him the perfect David to DuPont’s Goliath, making his every passionate lunge against Big Money feel rightfully hard-fought.
Unfortunately, Robert’s battle was not without personal sacrifices. With most of Robert’s time spent on his monumental task, his marriage and family life became the main collaterals. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Robert’s wife, Sarah, matches Ruffalo’s intensity almost blow for blow, conveying every moment lost to the uphill battle with understandable frustration and fear. While Dark Waters does partially bank on the family drama to flesh out its leads, it never loses its way in focusing on the admittedly drier subject of investigations and legal warfare. The film’s deft balance between the two elements is something that I particularly enjoyed.
To go into Dark Waters completely cold was a treat. While the film can flood the audience with a deluge of information that sounds like Latin to anybody who isn’t a lawyer or a chemist, most of the narrative plays out like a detective story. As Robert dives into and uncovers – quite literally – a rabbit hole’s worth of information, the audience becomes just as informed as the lead, and just as involved with the film’s characters from the all-around excellent performances.
Every shocking revelation is met with an exclamation point, with the constant reminders that it is far too late to foil any plots when everybody is already poisoned – those most immediately affected already have blackened teeth or developed cancers. Dark Waters even flirts with the thriller genre towards the end, where fear and paranoia seeps into the lives of its characters, knowing full well that they are dealing with a large corporation determined to silence them. There is enough mystery and drama here to last a binge-worthy television series, making the two hour-long runtime seem urgent in comparison.
Downcast colours supplied by an almost exclusive focus on the winter season create a fog of gloominess that permeates Dark Waters. The camera work is pushed to the forefront from time to time with innovative framing and movement but the cinematography mostly never craves attention, leaving its actors and script to shine.
While Dark Waters is yet another entry into the burgeoning ‘man vs corruption’ genre of films, unlike most of its contemporaries, the film never feels like an interpretation of reality just with celebrities playing dress-up. Dark Waters launches at its story with full confidence in its script and the performances; that these elements will carry the narrative forward all while patiently providing the most succinct and faithful retelling possible. It is with its permeating sense of confidence that makes Dark Waters an overall excellent film.
Dark Waters is now in theatres everywhere. Watch the trailer to the spectacular docu-drama below: