Dark Waters is a legal thriller based on the real 20-year battle at the turn of this century between lawyer Rob Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) and giant chemical firm DuPont. Directed by Todd Haynes, who deviates from the style and themes that viewers have come to expect from him, the movie is understated in its approach, concentrating chiefly on facts and details. The cinematography, characterised by a dark palette of inky colours and permanently cloudy skies, sets the mood of the story.
A desperate West Virginian farmer turns up at Bilott’s firm asking for assistance. Having buried almost 200 of his cows, he believes his cattle are being poisoned by DuPont’s toxic waste flowing downstream from their nearby plant. Bilott, whose fame up until this point was built on his experience in successfully defending chemical firms, refuses to get involved.
A visit to the affected farm and a look at the haunting evidence, however, turns the matter into a moral question. Bilott begins, at first tentatively and then obsessively, to search for answers. What emerges is far more worrying and far-reaching than he predicted. DuPont are not only contaminating drinking water, but are also behind the use of PFAs in household items, extending the risks to a global scale.
Employing the cinematic medium to document and denounce DuPont may not be making the most of its creative possibilities, but it is of utmost importance that films like Dark Waters are made: their educational and social value is immense. The feature does justice to the subject at hand and Ruffalo, who is notoriously vocal about political matters and social injustice, portrays Bilott with grace. Slightly hunched over and consumed with worry and doubts, he is driven by rage towards making unethical decisions that put all living creatures at risk.
Dark Waters may not reach the dramatic heights of a masterpiece, but as a whistleblower film, it is essential viewing for all.
Dark Waters is released nationwide on 28th February 2020.
Watch the trailer for Dark Waters here: