How does one begin to contemplate the severity of something that can be proven, even though the battle itself is a lingering process? That’s the question that was floating in my mind while watching Dark Waters, an engaging and exciting new political thriller starring Mark Ruffalo. This movie is based on the New York Times article that details the twenty-year battle of a lawyer who went to war with a chemical company accused of dumping hazardous waste and infecting the citizens of a West Virginia community. The result feels like a hyper-charged John Grisham story, but the story is legitimately factual. It’s informative, well-acted and frustrating at the same time, but in a good way.
The movie beings with a farmer seeking the assistance of an Ohio based attorney named Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo). He’s a corporate defense attorney for chemical companies and this farmer in particular is seeking his help to file a suit against one of the biggest chemical companies ever: DuPont. Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) has come to see Bilott because every local attorney in Parkersburg, West Virginia has not accepted his case or is willing to talk to him.
After accepting his offer, Robert visits Tennant’s farm and learns that something very wrong is happening. His cattle are dying at a high rate (190 to be exact) and believes that DuPont is responsible. Although cautious at first, Robert decides to investigate. What starts out as a simple suit, however, turns into one of the biggest environmental lawsuits in American history. I won’t divulge many plot points here, but if you enjoy legal thrillers, this is one to not miss. The investigation begins in 1998 and we are taken through the years of this painful process of gathering evidence, going to court, fighting with lawyers and dealing with the smokescreen DuPont is throwing across the playing field to slow down the investigation. Basically, DuPont is accused of exposing a dangerous and potentially lethal chemical to the people with no warning, the risks of which involve cancer outbreaks and even death.
Now, these chemical corporations are usually watched over closely by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), but what happens when the EPA doesn’t even regulate chemicals that the company is using? This revelation is shocking not only to the audience, but Bilott himself. His quest for the truth takes many years and plays havoc on his family and personal health. For some, this movie may feel tedious at times but, for myself, I was fully engaged and even after learning all that I had, left the theater with many questions and was eager to discuss it with just about anyone.
The cast is very effective here, Ruffalo is commanding just as he was in Spotlight, which feels similar to Dark Waters in terms of being an investigative thriller. Other cast members include Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway, Victor Garber and Bill Pullman, all of whom are spot on in their performances and I really enjoyed watching how director Todd Haynes told the story. We are learning the truth just like Bilott did and we feel just as frustrated as he does. Who is to be held responsible? What are the consequences of what this company is accused of doing? What is going to happen in the future? These are just some of the questions that will pop into your mind while watching this film.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Dark Waters is a great movie! The script is excellent and very informative, the entire cast does great work and the direction of Todd Haynes makes for an incredible legal thriller that’s equally engaging as it is upsetting once we learn the truth. To this day, Bilott still fights for all the clients he represents and Ruffalo brings that character to life here, much like Julia Roberts did when she portrayed Erin Brockovich. As a thriller, Dark Waters is exceptional just as the title gives us a glimpse of just the thing we need to avoid. It reveals names, gives us dates and let’s us know who the perpatrators are.
This is a fascinating movie but also quite terrifying when you think about it. Don’t miss this! You’ll learn something that’ll make you rethink what you know about American Business.