Dark Waters Movie Review
Dark Waters stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Bill Camp, and was directed by Todd Haynes. It tells the real life story of Robert Bilott, a corporate defense attorney, who ended up suing DuPont for environmental and public health violations. The film focuses on the long legal battle as well as the human implications of DuPont’s cover-up. I have a bit of a predisposition towards liking movies like this. Movies that focus on an environmental issue or on whistleblowers and exposed cover-ups. So, when I saw the trailer for Dark Waters, I knew I was gonna like it. But, I had no idea that this was gonna end up being one of my favorite movies of the year.
I have to say right off the bat that this is an important movie. If it wasn’t on your radar already, it should be. And I really think this is a movie that everybody should see. Not necessarily cause I think everybody will like it as much as me, but because of its central topic: a chemical company knowingly poisoning the public. Now, I know this sorta has a mass panic, conspiracy-theory sound to it, but it really is an important thing cause this true story is not the only one of its kind. And as we see in this film, some companies go to great lengths to hide this sort of thing, so undoubtably, there are plenty of cases like this that we aren’t even aware of yet.
Why do I think this kind of movie is important? Not cause I think you should be scared and paranoid of everything, but cause I think people need to be aware. And I think this is a movie that will unsettle people enough that they’ll ask questions and maybe do a little research of their own. Beyond being an important movie, I also think this is a really good movie. Mark Ruffalo was a perfect choice for the role of Robert Bilott. He has this soft-spoken and reserved quality to him, but you can still clearly see the intense motivation and passion he has for what he’s doing. This DuPont case consumed Bilott; it became his life ñ and that really comes across through Ruffalo’s performance.
The rest of the cast all do a very good job of realistically portraying their characters too. Bill Camp, who plays Wilbur Tennant ñ the farmer who hires Bilott ñ is really believable as a small-town local farmer. He’s understandably angry and kind of brash and stubborn, but you could put his character into just about any small town and he would seem like a realistic local.
The other individual performance I want to briefly touch on here is that of Anne Hathaway as Sarah Bilott. Her role is relatively small in the movie, but provides an interesting counterbalance to this story of work obsession. I’ve never seen her in a role quite like this, so it was interesting to see this side of her range. While Dark Waters follows some of the basic story beats that you might expect in a movie like this, it does so in a way that’s kinda unique to the environmental crime thriller genre. Rather than just focusing on the human drama of the situation, it actually devotes a lot of time to the research side of things.
I know that that might be boring to some people, but it was actually one of my favorite aspects of the movie. I absolutely loved seeing how much work and determination went into unraveling this DuPont cover-up. This movie puts the horrific effects and consequences front and center, both in the field – with crazed cattle and tumor-laden dogs ñ but also in the files. And those files are not only key to the actual case, but also the thing that makes this such a compelling movie for me.
The information contained in those files paints such an infuriating and sickening picture of malfeasance and so, the uncovering and piecing together of the real story was gripping to me. I really appreciated the technicality that they retained in the film. It was never so technical that a layperson couldn’t understand, but by keeping in some of the terminology and actually talking about what chemicals like PFOA can do, it maintained this sense of realism to it. Likewise, watching Bilott pour over a seemingly infinite number of files for literally years was fantastic to me. Again, I imagine watching somebody do research might be the last thing some of you would want to do, but I loved it.
I might be a bit weird, but I really genuinely enjoy organizing things. I love sorting things, I love categorizing things, and I love taking that organized material and being able to produce some sort of consolidated output or product with it. So, watching Bilott do just that was immensely compelling and satisfying to me. If that kinda thing isn’t exactly your cup of tea, don’t worry.
There’s definitely more to the film, including some very impactful and powerful human elements. It’s not a perfect movie and does have some questionable cinematography choices, especially towards the beginning, but the whole of this movie is greater than the sum of its individual parts. It’s gonna intrigue you, it’s gonna inspire you, it’s gonna sicken you, it’s gonna enrage you, and I think it’s gonna impress you. Dark Waters is a movie you don’t want to miss, but more importantly, a story you need to know. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the importance of this movie.
I don’t want too sound preachy or anything, but the true story behind this film is one that took far too long to come to light and sadly one that’s still not as widely known as it should be. It’s a frustrating and scary true story. It’s not a movie that’s trying to make you boycott DuPont or throw out all your pans. Instead, it’s putting this particular case on display to illuminate a larger and more widespread issue.
This isn’t about just DuPont. It’s about any company ñ or any entity, for that matter ñ that preys upon people’s trust or perceived indebtedness. And so, what I hope people take away from this movie isn’t that they should be paranoid, but that they should be aware. That they should ask questions, rather than just blindly accepting what they’re told. Because the more informed that people are, the better.
The second pro for me has gotta be the focus on the research. Again, I realize that not everybody’s gonna put this on the pro side, but this was extremely satisfying for me. Unraveling the mystery of the cover-up and seeing Bilott expose the truth was really compelling, but I also enjoyed the procedural side of it. I know I sound like a crazy person admitting that I genuinely enjoyed watching somebody sort paperwork by year, but I did.
I loved how methodical and organized the whole research process was and I could really relate to that side of Bilott’s character. On the con side, my issues were pretty minor, but they did exist. The first negative that stood out to me was the visual style or at least elements of that style. It didn’t look terrible or anything, but there were moments, especially early on in the film that just looked weird.
There were some strange shooting angles and scene transitions that kinda felt weirdly experimental. Most of those scenes had this sorta voyeuristic feel to them, so I think they were trying to play up the whole realism thing and put us right in the scene with the characters, but it didn’t always work for the film. My second minor issue is a moderately frustrating red herring.
I’m not gonna go into it cause I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’ve seen the movie, I think you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Once we get about halfway into the movie, the film repeatedly focuses in on and draws our attention to something, making us believe it’s more interesting and significant than it actually is. Again, it’s not a huge problem, but it was a little frustrating to me and kinda stood out in an otherwise solid script. I’m gonna give Dark Waters 4.5 out of 5 paws. I knew I was gonna like this one, but I didn’t expect that I would end up loving it. I would recommend Dark Waters to fans of legal dramas and thrillers, especially ones that have an environmental or public safety focus to them.
This isn’t some big courtroom drama, but instead focuses more on the behind-the-scenes parts of a legal case. It emphasizes the time and dedication something like this actually takes. It’s not just about a flashy performance in court. It’s about the research and the compilation of evidence and all the little pieces on the backside of a legal battle that need to come together to make a case viable. So, if you like seeing something like that come together, I think you’ll really enjoy this movie. And again, even though not everybody will love or even like this movie, I would still recommend that everybody see it, if only for its societal implications. If you liked Dark Waters, I would recommend Erin Brockovich.
I think it’s safe to say that this is a very obvious recommendation since both films deal with real life legal battles between a large company and the residents of a town that it poisoned. Erin Brockovich focuses on the human side a little bit more, but still features some good behind-the-scenes research stuff. If you liked the more dramatic and paranoid aspects of this film, you should really check out Silkwood.
It too is based on a true story and focuses on Karen Silkwood, who was a labor union activist and technician at a nuclear facility in the 70s where she acted as a whistleblower, drawing attention to health and safety violations. I would also suggest you watch The China Syndrome, which is a fictional disaster thriller about safety violation cover-ups at a nuclear power plant. Although that film wasn’t based on a real-life incident, it was still a movie that brought to light potential issues, especially since it was coincidentally released a mere 12 days before the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Dark Waters? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite environmentally-tinged legal movie? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.