Pros: An incredibly important story in a good quality production.
Cons: Slow at times.
Photo from Focus Features: Mark Ruffalo as ‘Robert Bilott’
Dark Waters is a 2019 conspiracy thriller film which follows the true story of lawyer Robert Bilott’s long lasting case against chemical giants Dupont. Mark Ruffalo plays Bilott who, at the start of the film, is a corporate defence lawyer working for the chemical companies. But when a farmer comes to him with a claim that 190 of his cows have died as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals, Bilott sets off on a journey of horrifying discovery which consumes his entire life.
Unfortunately, this film wasn’t seen by a great many people, I personally missed it in cinemas and it only grossed around $20 million at the worldwide box office. The reason more people should go and watch it is that it affects almost every single person on the planet; the harmful chemicals that the film discusses are in the body systems of 99% of humans. The film makes you angry in the best way as you discover the atrocities this corporate juggernaut knowingly committed to keep making profit, and you really empathise with Bilott as he begins to uncover the extent of the problem. This film has a very similar vibe to Spotlight (also starring Ruffalo) that came out a few years earlier as both focus on characters turning over stone after stone and uncovering more horrors as they go, and although this film is not as gripping or enthralling as Spotlight it certainly has a lot of the same merits to it.
Perhaps the most important element of this film’s success was Mark Ruffalo’s central performance. He really is incredible as this character as he fully immerses himself in the role. As the story moves on he goes deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole into the murky world of corporate conspiracy, he really is the David taking on a Goliath of a company who seems able to re-write the rules at every turn. Ruffalo also perfectly encapsulates how draining this process, which lasted years, was on Bilott. You feel his personal paranoia rise as he uncovers more and more, culminating in a fantastically tense scene in an underground car park. This feeling of paranoia and horror is palpable throughout the whole film for which you have to give credit to the director Todd Haynes, he pulls no punches in the disturbing visuals depicted and uses a dark colour palette to help set the uneasy tone of the film. Another great performance comes from Anne Hathaway who plays his wife Sarah. She is a brilliant foil for Ruffalo as we see his character’s obsession impact his home life and put great strain on his loved ones, and Hathaway gives a really powerful emotional performance as she strains to hold her family together whilst supporting her husband’s obsession with his case. The rest of the supporting cast is also very strong with Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman giving some of their best performances in recent years.
It’s not a perfect film, however, as at times it does bog down and begins to drag; it could have been cut down to make a tighter story. It is understandable why they wanted to keep as much content in as possible, as the information the film conveys about this true story is incredibly important to the audience, but as they were not making a documentary some of it should have been shaved down to create a tighter and more engaging plot.
Having said all that, I would highly recommend Dark Waters not only because it is a good quality film but also because the story it tells is an incredibly important one to us all. Overall, I would give Dark Waters a score of 8/10.