DARK WATERS (2019)
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause, Kevin Crowley, Bruce Cromer, Denise Dal Vera, Richard Hagerman, Brian Gallagher, Scarlett Hicks, Abi Van Andel, Sydney Miles, Mike Seely, Sue Hopkins, Chaney Morrow and John Newberg.
Screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan.
Directed by Todd Haynes.
Distributed by Focus Features. 126 minutes. Rated PG-3.
With the idea of whistle-blowers so trenchant in the news, and the debate about regulations and the EPA’s viability in the Trump era, Dark Waters is a crucial reminder of the importance of placing some controls on big business.
Dark Waters is a modern tragedy – but sadly it is not an uncommon story. In fact, multiple films in recent decades have told similar stories based on true events: A Civil Action, Erin Brockovich, The Insider, Silkwood, even Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground.
Surprisingly, Dark Waters is directed by arty filmmaker Todd Haynes (Safe, Far from Heaven, Carol), though honestly, he seriously downplays his normal idiosyncratic style. Just about any competent director could have helmed Dark Waters. Which is not to say that Haynes doesn’t do a fine job in bringing this story to life, it’s just saying that he is not exactly stretching himself with it. Particularly because he has touched on this kind of film before – the subject of chemicals and pollution was also central to his previous film Safe.
The story is as simple and as trenchant as yesterday’s newspaper: a small farming community is devastated, and hundreds are killed or become terminally ill when a huge chemical conglomerate dumps hazardous waste which gets into the local water. The community tries to sue the huge multi-national, but they use money and obstruction to slow walk the court case, knowing that a bunch of ill small farmers will not have the time nor the resources for a protracted legal fight.
The story is true and happened in the 1990s. The company was DuPont Chemical, which dumped the waste in a lot near the community of Parkersburg, WV. The effects are long-term and dramatic – the death of nearly all the livestock, a spike in cancer diagnoses, townspeople’s teeth turning black.
The only person they had on their side was Robert Billott – a lawyer whose grandmother lived in the town and specialized in similar cases, but he has always worked on the side of the corporations. The role is obviously a labor of love for star Mark Ruffalo, who is well-known advocate for the ecology. (Between this film and Foxcatcher, the DuPont family probably aren’t fans of Ruffalo…)
Billott is an interesting character; quiet, reserved, a bit repressed. Dark Waters follows the story of how one case ended up taking over a decade and a half of his life, nearly destroying his family life and his career as he searched for justice and how many people died because of the raw pursuit of profits.
Even though this story started decades ago, the repercussions – for good and bad – continue to affect the world. It’s a sad reminder that too often the corporate bottom line is considered more important than people’s live – and sadly that is a very trenchant subject at this moment in history.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 26, 2019.