By Liz Lopez
If anyone thinks that the issue about water contamination in Flint, Michigan is a first in this nation, well “Dark Waters” will inform viewers otherwise when the story unfolds about what the Dupont chemical company has been doing as of a few decades ago – and the consequences the people have suffered. Tod Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven, Carol, Wonderstruck) directs the screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine story “The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare,” written by Nathanial Rich. The lawyer is Robert Bilott (played by actor/producer Mark Ruffalo), a corporate defense attorney who worked in a Cincinnati firm that defends chemical companies. In 1998, an unexpected visit at the office from a West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), is the reason his life is about to change. The farmer knows his grandmother – and that catches his attention – and he soon begins to find out that the evidence on old videotapes left by the elder gentleman is much more than what is happening to the cows.
This may appear to some people as “just another drama” about a person fighting “the system,” whether it be political, corporate or otherwise, but “Dark Waters” seems to hit so timely with the various headlines and television news of the moment regarding shenanigans in the nation that has many people stirred up. And as I talk to people about the film, some have responded with a comparison to Steven Soderbergh’s “Erin Brockovich,” released almost 20 years ago. What should be eye – opening in “Dark Waters” is that Dupont was using toxic materials since the early 1950s in its products (remember Teflon cookware?), knowing the effects on their employees and the public. What is even more astounding from viewing “Dark Waters” is that this toxic material is considered to still be present in our system – and the news can make someone almost lose their breath from how ominous this sounds.
Robert agrees to represent Wilbur, which means to sue Dupont, thinking it is a case of only one farm. Robert and a colleague at the firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), anticipate this will be a quick case to solve/go away. They soon learn from the Dupont’s chief executive, Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) how this is not welcome. Robert learns more about what is happening in West Virginia and through his investigation, he finds evidence of PFOA, a chemical with little documentation readily available. After securing five decades of Dupont documents, he pores more of his life into the case. Needless to say, he has a supportive wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), but she and the children pay the price of his absence.
The cinematography is by Ed Lachman and captures some very difficult to watch scenes of the cows and nature, and the pain of all of this is seen through the superb acting by the strong cast. Ruffalo portrays Robert as a very driven attorney who does not stop, even if it is at his own expense. Anne Hathaway excels in her performance as a devoted mother and wife while paying a high price. Bill Camp makes Wilbur an individual who will not be forgotten for the pursuit of getting this addressed. There is enough in this film that should be haunting and not easily dismissed as fiction.
MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 126 MIN. Austin Release Date: Nov 27, 2019
Source: Focus Features