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Hello, Movie Buffs!
Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is climbing the ladder as a corporate attorney and just as he gets promoted to partner, Wilbur Tennant arrives with a box of evidence and a troubling case: DuPont Chemicals has been slowly poisoning every living thing in its shadow. As he starts to connect a growing number of birth defects and unexplained deaths to DuPont Chemicals, he soon learns that the company's far-reaching influence makes finding the evidence even more difficult and that he’s risking far more than just his career - his life, his family’s lives, and his marriage are also on the line. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol, Wonderstruck), screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan (21 Bridges, Deepwater Horizon), and based on the 2016 NYT article "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare" by Nathaniel Rich, Dark Waters (2019) is an entertaining and tension-filled legal thriller that follows a tenacious attorney who risks it all in his 20-year legal battle to punish one of the world’s largest corporations for its inhumane method for dumping toxic waste and its corresponding deathly effects on living things.
Through the expert direction of Todd Haynes, Dark Waters embraces and follows the theme of a lone-crusader-against-the-corrupt-system by giving viewers a feel for what a long, tedious, spiritually and emotionally draining process a lawsuit of this magnitude can be. Haynes takes it a step further by letting the most charismatic actors look as if they are also inhabiting the same exhausting reality as their characters. The story and tone of this film is more closely associated with films such as Spotlight (2015), The Big Short (2015), The Post (2017), and Official Secrets (2019) because they all illustrate their own convoluted and complicated stories of corruption enough for the average person to understand the injustice the corporations has exacted upon the public.
The story is informative about the events that took place and demonstrates how one farmer’s plight opened the door for a wider discussion on PFOA, a by-product of Teflon - one of DuPont's most lucrative postwar products. This leads to a much wider discussion and looks at how toxic chemicals that are spread through the water supply enter the human body and usually remain there forever, leaving a grime and almost hopeless undertone to the film. On top of this, the amount of corruption is shocking especially the rampant corruption within the government that allows big & powerful corporations like DuPont get away with everything at the expense of public safety, and all so that they can fill their pockets. As more and more truth is exposed the viewers will start to question: why fight if the bad guys have already won? But the story’s message provides an answer: you should fight because it's the right thing to do and it’s a public service to show people how broken the system is. It is strong, involving, angry, and understated film that resonates with present-day feelings of hopelessness at the blatant corruption displayed by companies we are supposed to trust.
The cinematography by Edward Lachman (Carol, Wonderstruck) is remarkable because he manages to infuse every scene with its own sense of neglect, decay, and sunless atmosphere that gives the illusion that the film is rotting from the inside out. This is an inspired and effective choice considering the story’s subject matter of dangerous ‘forever chemicals seeping into a rural population’s water supply. Regardless of the fact that the story asks us to root for a crusading attorney fighting for justice against multinational capitalism, the cinematography suggests that his quest might be all for naught within a fallen world. It is a plain and simpleness that helps drive the story home.
The cast performances were outstanding. I have always been a fan of Mark Ruffalo from 13 Going on 30 (2004) to the Now You See Me series to Spotlight (2015) to Avengers: Endgame (2019) and demonstrating a wide range of emotions and characters. In Dark Waters as Robert Bilott, Ruffalo delivers one of my favorite performances yet. Ruffalo has played a similar role to this one in the 2015 film Spotlight but here he tones down the smugness and instead emphasized a kind of weary bewilderment that compliments his self-willed pariah status. His nervous and timid body language demonstrates that this smart and ethical man is financially, politically, and scientifically outgunned when it comes to going against a big corporation like DuPont. In addition to dealing with the cold and implacable hostility from DuPont’s honchos and legal team - as well as doubts from himself, his wife (Anne Hathaway), co-workers, and his boss (Tim Robbins) - Robert must also contend with the resentment of the community he’s working for because they have been conditioned for years to believe that DuPont has their community’s best interests at heart. Ruffalo conveyed the stress of his character’s position and the anxiety he must have felt throughout the process. The supporting cast - Anne Hathaway (The Witches, Modern Love) as Sarah Bilott, Tim Robbins (Hear and Now) as Tom Terp, Bill Camp (Jokes, The Kitchen) as Wilbur Tennant, Victor Garber (The Orville) as Phil Donnelly, Mare Winningham (The Outsiders) as Darlene Kiger, Bill Pullman (The Sinner, The Equalizer 2) as Harry Deitzler, William Jackson Harper (The Underground Railroad) as James Ross, and Louisa Krause (Ray Donavan) as Karla - all deliver pretty solid performances that help build character, playoff Ruffalo’s character nicely, and add depth to the story as a whole.
Overall, Dark Waters (2019) is an entertaining and thought-provoking film about corporate corruption and the power of perseverance, specifically for justice. The story tells that no matter what the truth always comes out and fighting for what’s right might be hard and seem impossible at times but it is the right thing to do. The cinematography by Lachman is incredible in setting the film’s tone by giving every scene a sense of neglect, decay, and hopelessness. The cast performances were solid throughout, especially from Mark Ruffalo who delivers one of his best performances to date, possibly even surpassing his work in the MCU. All in all, Dark Waters is an angry film and rightfully so, and while it also deals with some heavy subject matter, I highly recommend that you check it out if and when you can.
Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars
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Official Secrets (2019)
The Post (2017)
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