As a fan of previous little guy versus behemoth law films such as Erin Brockovich or anger filling plots like In the Name of the Father, I just had to go and see Dark Waters in the cinema and I was not disappointed. Dark Waters tell us the story behind Cincinnati corporate lawyer Rob Bilott's (Mark Ruffalo ) 20 year crusade against chemical company DuPont's unregulated misuse of a chemical compound known as 'C8' which causes illness, cancer, and death in creatures which consume it.
We are introduced to Bilott as he is being promoted from associate to partner at corporate law firm Taft. (Taft Stettinius & Hollister is the full name but is never referred to as this ), a firm who has built its success on defending major corporations. However, Bilott's path is about to change when West Virginian farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp ) marches into the office with videos of his dying cows which he believes have been poisoned by a nearby DuPont landfill. After being encouraged by his grandmother to visit the Tennant farm, Bilott sees the devastation caused and in a second visit, with a mentally ill cow charging him, he agrees to represent Tennant.
The film is based on a 2016 New York Times article by Nathaniel Rich which may explain why it comes across as more like a piece of journalistic work where the emphasis is on the disseminating of the shocking cover up by DuPont into its workers’ illnesses and complications from working at its plant in Parkersburg, rather than a movie solely for viewer pleasure. Dark Waters has been put into the genre of docudrama but realistically it should probably have been made as a documentary as its plot fails to really ignite with few pulse pounding moments. For me, the enjoyment came from learning about what really went on in Parkersburg and how these chemicals are in our everyday lives. Did you know Teflon in which most frying pans were coated was poisonous to humans? I didn’t.
The acting is solid with Ruffalo carrying the can for most of the movie as the main character. Bill Pullman provides a cameo as (Harry Deitzler ) as the trial attorney with Anne Hathaway playing Bilott’s wife, Sarah, who is having to take the strain of her husband having a “jealous mistress” (law ) while raising their three sons. Hathaway is very much underused in the film and we find out in one scene her character, Sarah, used to be a lawyer too but that is where that little storyline started and ended.
However, as I mentioned above, Dark Waters is not meant for entertainment but a medium to inform the public. Ruffalo, who also produced the movie, has been an outspoken activist against the use of ‘forever chemicals’ in household products in States so the movie is about getting the message across that these chemicals are bad for human health while creating ill feeling towards corporate goliaths like DuPont which it most definitely succeeds in doing, however, this is at the cost to artistic development and creativity.
Despite its drawbacks, I thoroughly recommend seeing Dark Waters at the cinema especially if documentaries are something in which you are interested and if you are in the mood to learn.
Overall rating: 7/10.