If you’re an admirer of human interest films based on reality, especially when it revolves arounds the secrets of huge chemical conglomerates, then Dark Waters will definitely capture your curiosity but also boil your blood with anger and sadness, because we all know how the big companies tend to be the ones that get away with breaking the law.
Directed by Todd Haynes, with a script from Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan that’s based on the New York Times Magazine article ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’ by Nathaniel Rich, this is a slow-building, captivating drama that reveals the shocking cover up of DuPont, who were knowingly dumping chemical waste into the land near to the people of the town they also employed as workers.
Focusing on the tireless efforts from attorney Rob Bilott, played superbly by Mark Ruffalo, he’s initially approached by Farmer Wilbur Tennant (the always excellent Bill Camp) from his old home-town, whose herd of cattle have been mysteriously dying, and in some pretty horrific ways. At first he says he can’t help, mainly because he doesn’t believe he’s the right ‘type’ of lawyer, but upon looking closer, he notices that something seriously wrong is going on.
After just becoming a partner at his law firm, he discusses the situation with his boss Tom (Tim Robbins) and is given the go-ahead to examine it deeper, but at this point they don’t have any idea of sheer scale of the cover-up. Early inquiries don’t reveal too many secrets but Bilott’s endeavours start creating an atmosphere with other law firms and DuPont themselves, which not only makes Rob more suspicious but it also eventually leads to him being given hundreds of boxes of information, and now he’ll have to dig through years and years’ worth of paperwork to find what he needs.
As evidence of strong misdeeds begin to build, Bilott believes there’s more to discover and after extensively organising everything, uncovers vague answers, clues and vital information. As a film, Dark Waters does incredibly well to keep the suspense going from start-to-finish. I wasn’t entirely sure of the full story, this was an era just before the internet shared everything instantaneously, so while I’d heard of DuPont and a scandal, I never knew all the facts.
What’s vital for a film of this ilk is a believability between everyday people and how that’s portrayed, there’s no overzealous chaos here, there’s actually an issue between the local Farmer trying to find the truth and the effect it has on both his health and family. These are real people, just wanting fairness and the truth to come out. Before Bruce Banner, I was already a huge fan of Ruffalo as he always embodies the characters he’s portraying. I’m also aware of his political activism, so this is a great fit. He becomes Rob Bilott by being quiet and specific, organised and dedicated. Sometimes films based on real events can be difficult to review but this is told so intricately that you’re there with the people involved and want a positive result for them.
Dark Waters also co-stars Anne Hathaway as Sarah, Rob’s wife. Sometimes, family additions can fall to the wayside, but Hathaway is vital to the story and to Rob. Her character develops and you understand her struggle both with his job dedication, but also for him to pay attention to the family they’re trying to raise together. We’re informed that she used to be a lawyer as well, so we’re aware that she can see what he’s trying to do, it’s another fine performance.
Dark Waters will leave you with a mix of emotions, but also proud of Bilott’s work and those who stood by him as he fought the billionaires and actually progressed. While this is sadly so exceedingly rare, we all need a little hope and from the horrific truths you’ll witness, there is sunlight filtering through the dark clouds. Social justice can prevail, but you’ve got to fight every second until you get it.
Dark Waters comes to Blu-ray and DVD from 6th July, order now: https://amzn.to/31NF8DF
- The Cost of Being A Hero – This piece examines real-life Rob Bilott’s sacrifices to take down a powerful corporation and how a single individual can impact an entire community. Cast and filmmakers discuss the importance of telling this story and empowering whistle-blowers.
- Uncovering Dark Waters – Get an inside look into the storytelling behind the gritty, real-life story from Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, filmmakers, and crew.
- The Real People – Meet the real people from Parkersburg who were impacted first-hand by the contaminated water as they share their experiences being on set and taking part in the film.