Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Dark Waters (2019) dir. Todd Haynes


Todd Haynes has never made a movie he didn’t want to make. Starting with the AIDS-metaphor triptych Poison (or further back, the devastating short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story), Haynes makes films about people at odds with the world. Safe and Far from Heaven feature Julianne Moore as two very different housewives facing existential crises; Carol is a perfect period piece love story between two women and their fight to be together; Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There are about the ups and downs of fame, artistry, and music. Each of his films have a unique queer sensibility, so when I heard his latest film, Dark Waters, seemed to be a real-life legal thriller, I was intrigued. What would Haynes bring to a genre dominated by straight men? Would he be able to maintain his directorial voice, or would his style be lost in the drab courtroom? Fortunately, Dark Waters is a fast-moving film featuring an excellent performance from Mark Ruffalo. The film is imbued with a suffocating sense of dread, as more and more of DuPont’s toxic crimes are revealed, but never comes off as overbearing or trite. Yes, the film takes place mostly in stuffy law offices and courtrooms, but Haynes has an excellent cast to fill them. It plays like a downbeat version of Erin Brockovich in some ways, and Spotlight in others. Ruffalo, a longtime environmental activist, was instrumental in getting this story to the big screen, and his passion comes through in his role.Mark Ruffalo stars as Robert Bilott, a corporate attorney in Cincinnati. One day, a West Virginian farmer named Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) comes to Bilott’s office demanding to speak with him. He wants Bilott to prove that something is killing his cows, potentially runoff from a nearby DuPont chemical treatment plant. Bilott is reluctant to help, as he primarily defends corporations, but he agrees to visit Tennant’s farm. Bilott quickly realizes that the animals, the farm, and potentially the entire town have been contaminated by DuPont chemicals and nothing has been done. Bilott’s life begins to entirely revolve around bringing DuPont to justice, at the expense of his health, job, and marriage. His wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway) is supportive, but finds herself reaching her limits as the case spans years with few tangible results.Dark Waters forces you to sit with what the DuPont chemical company has done to countless Americans. Though Bilott’s cases most slowly, justice is being served. Perhaps one day more intense regulations will be passed on corporations across the country, but until then people like Bilott will keep fighting.

Dark Waters
125 min
Dir. Todd Haynes

Now playing at Kendall Square Cinema
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