Title – Dark Waters (2019)
Director – Todd Haynes (Carol)
Cast – Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber
Plot – The true story of corporate defense attorney Rob Bilott (Ruffalo) who took on huge chemical company DuPont, a firm in which he use to represent, in a case that would last the better part of a decade after Bilott discovers an abundance of practices the company was undertaking that put thousands of lives at risks.
“The system is rigged. The want us to believe that it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us”
Review by Eddie on 18/06/2020
Famed for his impressive dramas such as Carol and Far From Heaven, Dark Waters is further proof that director Todd Haynes can handle a serious tale as good as anyone, even if this based on a true story effort lacks the energy or verve to enhance it to any level above solid lawyer drama 101.
A passion project for its lead actor Mark Ruffalo, who delivers an impressively dialed back turn as stoic and almost robotic Virginian raised lawyer Rob Billot, Haynes and his leading man explore the real life journey of Billot, who by chance ended up spending the better part of his career investigating and bringing to light the shady dealings of chemical company DuPont, who were seemingly knowingly putting its workers and wider community at risk through a series of careless decisions and practices.
Covering an extensive time-frame from the late 90’s deep into the 2000’s, Dark Waters has a lot of ground to cover in its exploration of Billot’s mission to uncover the truth about DuPont’s dealings after Bill Camp’s struggling farmer Wilbur Tennant comes into his offices and tells him about the possible DuPont cover ups that have affected his land and stocks health and it’s in this aspect that Dark Waters struggles too really bring its narrative home as the film lacks any of those big moments we would expect from such an incendiary true life tale.
Filmed throughout in an almost exclusively bleak and grey hue, the film feeling like it was born out of the All the Presidents Men 70’s era of this type of procedural film, Dark Waters has barely a moment of respite from its own depressive dealings that covers Haynes directional effort which lacks any type of flair or vitality, instead comfortable to let its characters talk it out, noticeable in the films most extended exciting sequence that inter-cuts Billot talking to Anne Hathaway’s short-changed wife Sarah about the findings he is uncovering about the DuPont company and other situations.
In many ways the plain and bland execution suits this sombre story well but as a cinematic exercise it doesn’t always allow Dark Waters to become the experience it may have been had more energy and attention been placed on its final product, as while its thought-provoking and well-acted (especially by scene stealing performances from Camp and a best in years Tim Robbins), you can’t help but escape the feeling that an overwhelming sense on keeping everything very grounded also held Dark Waters back from becoming the next big true life justice tale.
Final Say –
You will walk away from Dark Waters with a different perspective on modern day companies and a likely look through your kitchen’s utensils, yet while Haynes film is at all times watchable and other times utterly gripping, its lack of energy or enthusiasm makes for a bleak viewing experience.
3 ½ blackened teeth out of 5
I’ve seen a number of Todd Haynes films (Carol and Safe are among my favorite Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore films respectively) and your observation that Dark Waters “is at all times watchable and other times utterly gripping, its lack of energy or enthusiasm makes for a bleak viewing experience” makes me wonder if investigation-of-corruption plots aren’t his strong point. These stories require more than letting very good actors “do their thing” in front of the camera. Just as much attention needs to be paid to pacing, editing, and actually *not* letting dialogue explain everything away, which is something Todd Haynes does know how to do (eye-line matches, letting the shot linger, etc). How much screen time does Ann Hathaway have in this film? I haven’t seen it yet but have been wanting to for months now. ^J^
Anne’s very underused here, its odd how little she gets to do!
It’s a solid drama but one that will leave your memory very quickly.
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