Movie Review: ‘Dark Waters’ Blu-ray

Review by Bradley Smith

Wow! Unlike Rings, Dark Waters has no relation to the similarly named Japanese Horror film, Dark Water, yet it manages to be more horrific and unbelievable. Dark Waters tells an incredible story of one lawyer who risked his reputation and career, his family, and his life to take on one of the largest chemical companies in the world.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Rob Bilott, a corporate environmental defense attorney, who was in real life the lawyer who, despite his firm’s close relationship, went after Dupont for their negative impact on a town in West Virginia. Dupont, represented by Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) in the early stages of the case, uses every legal trick available to delay taking responsibility for decades. Anne Hathaway plays Rob’s wife, who struggles to keep herself and their home together while Rob pursues this seemingly unwinnable case that goes against everything that got him to the place he is at (he had just made partner at the Cincinnati law firm due to defending companies like Dupont). Good Place fans might enjoy seeing William Jackson Harper, though his scenes are limited, and he is very much the opposite of Chidi. One of Harper’s scenes setup Tim Robbins for an epic speech that elicited cheers from the screening I attended.

By my usual standards and interests, this film should not rank highly. First, it is based on a true story, a type of movie of which I am usually not fond. Also, it is not overly exciting or thrilling, which is not a bad thing, just unusual these days and tends to not hold my interest. The movie is essentially a straightforward tale of events spanning decades from beginning to end; no real unexpected twists or implausible embellishments, etc. But what stands out to me and makes this film amazing is the incredible acting that drew me in more than any other film that was based on true events and some scenes that could almost be considered tourism clips for Parkersburg, until the ugly truth is revealed later on, which is relatable to everyone including myself.

There is drama and tension, but they embrace subtilty more so than other films making it feel real and not like a Hollywood film (aside from the epic speech by Tim Robbins and maybe one or two other scenes). And speaking of subtilty, I love how well they presented the different time frames; the film starts in the 1970s and concludes in the 2010s. For example, Rob must use a pay phone in an early scene, but that phone call has a purpose, it isn’t there entirely to show the pay phone; though it was noticeable and got some reactions from the audience. VHS tapes kick off the whole investigation and Windows 2000 is briefly shown later, among other time period nods.

Dark Waters was directed by Todd Haynes, written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, and is based on a 2016 New York Times Magazine article by Nathaniel Rich titled “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”. After watching the film, I went home and started investigating the information presented and it is troubling how much of it looks to be true. It is sad to see what corporations can get away with until they are held accountable.

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