Drained of playing superhero Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo faces a new incredible green monster, this time in the form of major chemical company DuPont who knowingly polluted the drinking water in Parkersburg, West Virginia. This occurred for multiple decades, resulting in thousands of cases of cancer to citizens and employees as well as babies born with deformities. The film is adapted from the extremely long and detailed New York Times Magazine article ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’ by Nathaniel Rich.
The movie jumps right into the grit of things within the first 10 minutes with environmental lawyer Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) confronted by Parkersburg farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) who is desperately asking for help after 190 of his cows died from what he suspects was the Dupont creek used for landfill which also runs through his own property. Rob takes on the case due to the urge and torment of needing to do the right thing. The case ends up spanning for decades, starting in 1998 and ultimately taking over his whole career, impacting his marriage and affecting his health.
What director Todd Haynes has accomplished is a 127-minute runtime of a direct attack upon DuPont for its corporate corruption and greed in putting its large financial success ahead of the safety of society. Todd Haynes isn’t afraid to name and shame the people responsible, however his attention is more focused on the detail which results in a slow narrative burn and sometimes lacks dramatic impact.
Although his most popular credits revolve around huge blockbuster Avenger’s movies, Mark Ruffalo isn’t shy about switching from a green screen and a large pay check to a raw passion project, allowing him to take on more responsibilities as he’s also credited as a producer for the film. Ruffalo isn’t new to showcasing his talent in hard-core dramas as we’ve seen in the 2014 wrestling biopic Foxcatcher, and 2015 Oscars success, Spotlight. Ruffalo’s performance is solid and presents a believable progression of age as well as increased stress and responsibilities within his physical and verbal performance.
The rest of the cast is a hit and miss. Billy Camp’s performance as the angry, hurt and struggling farmer stands out atop of the rest of the supporting cast, comprising of Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Bill Pullman (Independence Day) and Victor Garber (Titanic) who all feel underused in their roles.
I would’ve liked to have seen Anne Hathaway shine through more for someone of her status as she can be considered of the same star-studded level as protagonist Mark Ruffalo. However, her impact on the story and screen time is minimal in Dark Waters. She plays a stay at home mother and acts as a morally supportive wife to Ruffalo’s character, without getting the chance to add anything special to the film with her screen time. It’s a shame but I can’t help to think that the movie wouldn’t have been any better or worse if a smaller actor had replaced her role.
The film’s biggest accomplishment is that it has a strong impact on the audience with its haunting truth as the events are mostly recent and the impact is still lingering in today’s society with many people still suffering heavily from DuPont’s actions. Horror films are stereotyped as being about monsters and sinister evil but despite this film being listed as a drama, it contains both of those horror elements, resulting in a scarier film than most horror flicks today. The film isn’t awards-worthy but it’s still an important watch and due to being released in the U.S. during the midst of the awards season, it may play to this film being lost and drowned amongst the crowd. That being said, don’t let the film’s poor marketing (which includes one of the most uninteresting posters I’ve seen) turn you away from this heavily enraging and relevant film about a lone hero’s obsession to take on corporate evil.
This film gets a 7/10.
Dark Waters hits Australian cinemas March 5th.