IMDB Synopsis: A corporate defense attorney takes on an environmental lawsuit against a chemical company that exposes a lengthy history of pollution.
Recommendation: Movies like this don’t get a lot of attention, so watch it, if for nothing else, to give a larger voice to the staggering malfeasance the film illustrates. 8/10.
Dark Waters, the latest from Director Todd Haynes (Carol, Far From Heaven), chronicles the 20-year legal battle that arose from decades of negligence, corporate malfeasance, and impropriety by the DuPont Corporation in West Virginia, based on the book “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich. The film isn’t flashy. It eschews the narrative devices of contemporary exposé film The Laundromat, nor does the dramatic tension often rise to the level of boardroom drama The Report, but nonetheless, Dark Waters is superbly effective in its storytelling. By showing the legal battle, and the heartbreak and frustrations of the victims the film is supremely affecting, as told in a straightforward timeline of events.
In WWII, the Manhattan Project developed a specific chemical (PFOA) that was indestructible and used on tanks as an anti-mud coating of sorts. Fast forward and chemical companies like DuPont put PFOA to use. Renamed C8, the chemical was most well known in Teflon, but also used in waterproofing, carpeting, etc. What DuPont knew, was the that C8 was wildly harmful to human, animals, and the environment. They had lab tests, human trials, real world evidence, and other data from companies like 3M. And DuPont had been polluting C8 waste in landfills, the rivers, and into the air in the Parkersburg, WV area for decades.
A Parkersburg farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) brought the case to corporate defense attorney Robert Bilott (a fantastic Mark Ruffalo) due to the mutual connection of Bilott’s grandmother. What starts as a favor quickly spirals into a near-obsession for Bilott as he uncovers more and more skeletons in DuPont’s closet related to C8. Bilott exposes the truth behind C8’s health effects including cancer, birth defects, and death, and how DuPont had been knowingly polluting C8 waste into the local area with no regard to health and human safety… because the Teflon line made a billion dollars a year. A true case of corporate greed and cover up, the story doesn’t stop when DuPont settles with the now-terminal Tennants.
Where Dark Waters really succeeds is in the David vs. Goliath battle that takes place after. It’s one lawyer, one obsession, one community, fighting against the full might of an American Institution. Bilott puts everything on the line for these folks—his job, his marriage, even his health—to shine a light on Dupont. And while the decades-long legal battle for Bilott and his class-action plaintiffs ultimately end in financial success, but there’s a bitter taste leftover. How many stories are left untold? How much corporate malfeasance goes unchecked? If anything, Dark Waters is a cautionary tale.
MVP: This is clearly a Mark Ruffalo vehicle, but I was really impressed with Anne Hathaway‘s scenes. I think she’s the sneaky MVP. But it’s nice to see Ruffalo as an everyman lawyer, not the Hulk.
Highlights: A movie that’s this workmanlike doesn’t have a lot of traditional highlights, but Ruffalo and Hathaway’s performances stand out. William Jackson Harper playing the anti-Chidi is also great.
Director: Todd Haynes
Studio: Focus Features // Original release date: November 12, 2019