Dark Waters is a shocking David versus Goliath true story about a corporate lawyer who uncovers a horrible case of environmental contamination by the North-American chemical company, DuPont.
The film is an adaptation of a New York Times article called The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Crime.
Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a husband and a father, works as an attorney for a high-profile firm focused on corporate clients. His life is turned upside down when a farmer from his grandmother’s hometown approaches him with disturbing information. He is convinced that a factory owned by DuPont is poisoning the creek on his farm. His proof? The mysterious death of 190 cows. Confronted with an extremely complicated case, Bilott is first very reluctant to accept it, as his career has focused on defending corporate clients, not suing them. But Bilott cannot go past some very incriminatory evidence against DuPont, so he accepts the challenge and starts digging.
As Bilott patiently and meticulously makes his way through a massive amount of data and information, he is horrified with his discovery. Not only was DuPont dumping toxic chemicals, but they were also aware of the dangers and had been covering them up.
Bilott works tirelessly and jeopardizes his whole career and personal life to do what he believes is the right thing. He gets questioned and criticized, and as he is consumed by the stress, his health gets worse. But Bilott never gives up. He’s doing a heroic act, but he is not portrayed as a hero. Instead, he is shown as a brave, passionate human being with flaws. His full-time dedication to the case against DuPont makes him neglect his role as a father and as a husband, yet he is easily forgiven by the audience because of his passion and dedication to fight against injustice.
A great character requires a great actor, and Mark Ruffalo lives up to expectations. Ruffalo’s performance is nothing but excellent and very convincing. Anne Hathaway is less believable in the role of Bilott’s wife, who had given up on her law career to look after their children. There are some hints that can make the viewer think that this plot point is going to be developed, but it isn’t. It could have been interesting and it would have added more depth to the relationship of the couple, but we are just left with some question marks.
Todd Haynes’ direction of this political thriller is fantastic. The suspense is slowly built, and even if there’s not much action going on at some points, it doesn’t become boring, but instead more realistic, as finding out the truth took Rob Bilott a huge effort and many hours of dedication. It’s a dense and long movie, but extremely thrilling.
As Dark Waters’ plot shares negative practices committed by a chemical company, it isn’t hard to imagine why the film would have some detractors. There’s a website called the Truth About Dark Waters, run by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, who accuse “the Hollywood activists behind the film” of ignoring “the truth in a bid to make money and boost political special-interest groups”.
And the truth is, no matter how you think or what you believe, Dark Waters will make you very angry. Either because you don’t believe in what it claims, or because the film shows how ordinary citizens can suffer from irresponsible acts by giant, powerful people or companies. And let’s not forget that DuPont is still operating and generating profit.
It’s not the first time Mark Ruffalo stars as a character dealing with the DuPont family. He already did in 2014’s Foxcatcher.