Dark Waters (2019)

Dark Waters
Director: Todd Haynes
Writer: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan
Based on: Nathaniel Rich‘s article
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause
Seen on: 13.10.2020

Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is an environmental defense attorney, working mostly for corporations faced with complaints. That’s why he is very reluctant to take on the case brought to him by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) who came to him because he know his grandmother. But Tennant’s story keeps gnawing at Bilott and when he digs a little deeper, he realizes that there may be more to the story. This realization is the beginning of a legal battle against chemical giant DuPont who has been polluting the entire area – a battle that will last for decades and affects thousands of people.

Dark Waters is a solid film. Given the cast and the subject matter, it had the potential to be more than just solid, but there are definitely worse movies out there.

The film poster showing Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) standing in front of a chemical plant. At the top of the poster we can see Rob Bilott, his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), his boss Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) and second lawyer Harry Dietzler (Bill Pullman).

That the case behind Dark Waters is, in fact, real, will surprise only the most naive of people, I think. (Oh to be that innocent again.) But that doesn’t make the facts any less outrageous. And they really are outrageous: DuPont knowingly poisoned so many people over so many years, it’s simply astounding. And infuriating.

The film does show that fury and anger at times, but it often gets lost in the translation of the story to the screen. A problem was that the story structure is a little too conventional. The familiar way in which the story is told leaves the audience prone to nod along more than to scream at the unbelievable injustice. Another problem lies in the nature of the case, though: spanning more than a decade and mostly consisting of the careful combing through of documents, it is made hard to get a strong emotional reaction from that.

Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) talks to farmer Wilbur Tennant  (Bill Camp) who brought the case to his attention.

The cast is good (as much as they get to play next to Ruffalo who dominates the film – in a good way) and it was an excellent choice to have some of the original plaintiffs appear in the film as well. But I was a little uncomfortable that the one colleague who argues against Rob taking on the case was also the only Black guy in the team of lawyers. And it was equally frustrating to see Anne Hathaway so completely wasted. Not only because it’s Anne Hathaway, dammit, but also because she’s pretty much the only woman in the entire film who gets to say more than just a few words and they are all pretty much about how she’s not just Rob’s supportive wife but more while she only gets shown as Rob’s supportive wife and nothing else.

The film does many things right. The thing is, though, that it could have gotten more right – it had all the right ingredients to do so. As is, there is a spark missing that would have elevated the film really to the top.

Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) standing in a room full of document boxes.

Summarizing: very good. Just not great.

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