I saw Dark Waters at a mystery screening event. When the title came up I was intrigued, but did feel as though this was going to be a fairly dense and lifeless, but important film, about a serious issue in modern society. However, with Dark Waters we’re in the hands of Todd Haynes, probably best known for directing Carol and I’m Not There.
First and foremost with Dark Waters is the issue that it’s covering. The film details corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott’s investigation and case against chemical manufacturing giant DuPont as they knowingly contaminate a town’s water supply with unregulated chemicals. Based principally on a 2016 New Yorker article, and drawing from several others, you can see why I would be apprehensive that the film would turn out to be dry.
But Haynes brings a real heart to the film by focusing in on Bilott’s journey. From someone who defended corporations like DuPont he slowly over the course of the film comes to feel more and more passionately about the case, and fights for the people who have been affected by DuPont’s actions, to the point that he has spent his career since his investigation first started in the late 1990’s dedicated to getting justice for those who suffered at DuPont’s hands.
The film touches upon the stories of those who were seriously affected, but using Bilott as a focal point in the film we are really brought into the case, and given someone whose point of view we can really follow and get behind. And Bilott is played by Mark Ruffalo, who does a great job showing the emotional toll that this case takes on him. The supporting cast of Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and Bill Camp all help deliver Haynes’ personal take on the subject and drive home the issue.
I can honestly say I was really pleasantly surprised by Dark Water. I was worried that we were going to get something like The Report, which was an important and well made film, but exceptionally dry. But what Todd Haynes delivered was a film very in the vein of Spotlight, highlighting the human drama at the heart of the investigation worked fantastically, and this is a film you should definitely check out.