Dark Waters

darkwatersRating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some disturbing images, and strong language)
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Todd Haynes
Written By: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa
In Theaters: Dec 6, 2019
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 3, 2020
Runtime: 126 minutes
Studio: Focus Features
Stars: Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Anne Hathaway Tim Robbins, and Mark Ruffalo

Dark Waters is a disturbing film. It tells the true story of an attorney (Robert Bilott), played by Mark Ruffalo) who took on the DuPont corporation over toxic chemicals. It’s in the fine tradition of films like A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich.

Ruffalo is perfect for the part of the crusading lawyer. He depicts a man who has an inner sense of Justice who perseveres in the face of obstacles. The type of man who quietly argues his case and persuades doubting colleagues at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. Someone who isn’t intimidated by the scale of the forces on the other side. He is very unflashy, much like the film.

Bilott is prepared to risk his career, his health and even his family relationships to do what is right. He is lucky that his wife Sarah (played by Anne Hathaway) has the same values and generally supports him.

He is also lucky to win the support of his law-firm boss, Tom Terp (played by Time Robbins). His law firm DEFENDS the big corporations not the little guy and they’re trying to land Du Pont as a client! Yet Bilott is able to persuade them to do the right thing and take the case of Wilbur Tennant (played by Bill Camp), a West Virginia farmer who is convinced DuPont has poisoned his cattle, his land — and perhaps his family. DuPont has dumped toxic chemical waste into the Dry Run Creek where his animals drink.

From there the David vs. Goliath battle begins. DuPont doesn’t lack resources. They have an army of lawyers and deep pockets. They use every legal trick in the book to delay and confound Bilott. Bilott works his way through everything that they throw at him. They swamp him with files but he painstakingly puts them in order and analyses them. They introduce scientific evidence and he exposes their corporate links.

At first, even the local community being poisoned in Parkersburg isn’t supportive. DuPont is the biggest employer in the town and has “bought” the community, financing the local mall and schools and giving out freebies.

Slowly the truth begins to emerge. DuPont has knowingly exposed thousands if not millions of consumers to dangerous levels of toxins. As I said at the start it’s disturbing. It makes you question what type of people run large corporations and whether they have our best interests at heart. It’s also inspiring as the villains are eventually brought to some kind of account at least.

Dark Waters is a compelling true story based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”. It has a great ensemble cast (I particularly enjoyed Victor Gerber as the DuPont lead lawyer). It’s a thought-provoking film and one where the good guys actually win.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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