TL;DR – A film that comes at you like the rising tide, slow at first and then before you know it you have become overwhelmed
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Having grown up in the era of Erin Brockovich, I am hard-wired to like a good biopic, especially one where someone takes down a major corporation that should have known better. Well, today we get to see a film that does pretty much all of that and does it very well indeed.
So to set the scene, we open back in the 1970s as a bunch of kids go skinny dipping in a lake in Parkersburg, West Virginia only to get shoed away from the site by men from the DuPont Corporation in a boat firing foam at a residue building up on the surface. Sometime later, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) has just been made a partner in the Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm when he is interrupted in a meeting by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) an old friend of Robert’s grandmother. He has a problem with his farm, ever since DuPont built a rubbish tip next door to his property all of his cattle have been dying of odd diseases. Robert is reluctant to intercede but he makes a trip out to Parkersburg and finds things are not what they seem.
In some respects, you could call this film a vanity project, which is when a star, in this case, Mark Ruffalo, pushes a project that he is going to be the lead-in. Usually, these are vanity projects, as the title suggests, that are mostly puff pieces making them look good, but without any real substance beneath them. This is not the case with Dark Waters. Yes, Mark might be the main star but I would not say this is a flattering performance. It is a very reserved and measured portrayal of Robert Bilott, which charts what years of stress can do to a person.
Indeed, one of the areas where the film shines is in its depiction of time. The case took a long time to reach a resolution, and I doubt it is still over as I write this review today. We go from his family being babies to teenagers, we go from payphones to mobiles, and we go from VHS to the internet. Seeing Robert open up Alta-Vista dragged me straight into the past because this film pretty much charts the whole time I have been alive. I saw parts of my life recreated as the years went by and it also triggered these memories of stories about Teflon and PFOAs reminding me of the fallout that happened back in the day,
Where it really shines is in its pacing, which I thought was taking too long to get going but I was wrong. The pacing in this film is slow and methodical on purpose because they want to pull you into this world. The constant winter of the scenes, the constant helplessness over everyone in the face of the power of money. It slowly overwhelms you and I found myself getting really quite emotional, especially as we start to see Robert slowly deteriorate. You can also see how the film has gone out of its way to make sure it differentiates itself from Erin Brockovich even though it is dealing with similar subject material. Erin Brockovich goes out of its way to be warm, in both colour and tone, which is helped by it being set in California. Here everything is winter, or overcast, or gloomy, and even when we are inside there is a blue filter on everything making you feel like it is winter even when you can’t be sure what time of year it is.
The strength and also maybe one of the film’s weaknesses comes from its impeccable casting. I have mentioned Mark’s performance, but I also want to give real credit to Bill Camp who plays Wilbur Tennant and who could have really slipped into parody if he had not committed himself to the role as much as he does. Bill Pullman and Tim Robbins look like they are having a great time, and if you want cantankerous well you got it with Victor Garber. One thing I think I found odd and hearing from others walking out of the theatre I was not alone in this, was the seemingly wasted opportunity with Anne Hathaway. For most of the film, she is just there, and it is not until the end that you realise why. To add to this, the film does having these characters that look like they are going to be important like William Jackson Harper’s James Ross but then kind of disappear from the narrative.
In the end, do we recommend Dark Waters? Absolutely. It is well-acted, powerful, and is telling a story we need to hear today. If you liked Dark Waters, we recommend checking out Erin Brockovich and Spotlight.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you watched Dark Waters?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Dark Waters
Directed by – Todd Haynes
Screenplay by – Mario Correa & Matthew Michael Carnahan
Based on – The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich
Music by – Marcelo Zarvos
Cinematography by – Edward Lachman
Edited by – Affonso Gonçalves
Production/Distribution Companies – Participant, Killer Films, Amblin Partners, EOne & Universal Pictures
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, Abi Van Andel, John Newberg, Barry Mulholland, Jeffrey Grover, Jim Azelvandre & Bucky Bailey
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: na: the United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13